0667 – revisit, review and re-reference your work [Final Third!]

I have been hesitant to begin on the final third of my word vomit project. There’s a simple reason for this – I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it. I could just keep rambling indefinitely until the end of the project, but somehow that seems suboptimal. I don’t want to finish the project and then have to start work on making sense of the project. That would be exhausting. No. I want to finish the project when I finish the project. [1]

So then I have to ask myself – what does ‘making sense of the project’ look like? Well, it means I’ll have to read the entirety of my vomits to process it for meaning. Probably several times. [2] I’ll need to look for signals amidst the noise, and then tidy those up.

Well, why not do that within the context of the project itself? The main argument against it, in my subconscious, is “well… I’ll be quoting myself, and repeated words shouldn’t exactly count towards total word count.” I think a part of that is true. But a part of it is also untrue, when I go back to the original intent of the project. The project was intended to help me develop and grow as a writer. It’s dawning on me that it’s better to reuse previous sets of words in service of better comms, than to invent new sets of words that don’t add any clarity.

Maybe I’ll have to say “I wrote a million words” with a caveat, saying some of those words were repeated in quotes. Or I can say that I worked on a million words. Does it really matter to me? A little bit… but I’ll be fair to myself.

Anyway, so here’s what lies ahead.

  1. Reading. I’ve been spending some time going through my existing vomits already. There’s a list of all published word vomits over at /1000/sitemap.
  2. Editing titles. I’ve been editing and updating titles of these word vomits so that they’re a little more tidy and consistent. This isn’t just to make it look better. This is to make it easier for me to parse them. For example, I’m retitling “a new day + story of the bum” to “break up with the saboteur-bum in your head”. This makes it easier for me to be clear what the vomit is about.
  3. Pattern recognition and tagging. Once I’ve started editing blogposts, I begin to notice certain patterns.
    1. With a lot of my “reflection” type blogposts, there’s often some sort of direction, action or next step.  I find that when I make the title a ‘directive’ – something to do, it somehow becomes much easier to remember what the post is about, what my train of thought is.
    2. There are other “types” of blogposts, which are becoming clearer as I improve the titles. I have a class of blogposts tagged “bugs”, which describe ways in which I systematically get in my own way. These are things that I need to develop an intimate understand of, and have methods to fight against. I don’t have an immediate directive for these, since the wrong directive might even do me harm. But I want to have all of these in a tidy little list so that I can revisit them.
    3. Other tags include…
      1. ‘truths’ – these are vomits that attempt to capture something about reality that I think I need to remember or understand
      2. status update – these are vomits where I take stock of how I’m doing at a given point in time. Each is a snapshot of my life; in aggregate they should reveal some interesting constants and changes
    4. As I write these, it becomes clear to me that my current set of tags is still suboptimal. I need to keep editing and tagging my posts. I don’t yet know what the optimal set of tags will be, but I trust that as I keep editing them, and keep identifying patterns, I will find superior ways of tagging things.
  4. Consolidation. This is the important next bit that I haven’t gotten to yet. Once I start seeing patterns in my tags, I’m going to “merge” or “chain” my older posts in new ones. I have repeated myself about dozens of things. I want those sets of posts to be allowed to merge and coalesce naturally, so that they’re all connected. Right now, I have 666 dots in a big pile on the floor. I’m trying to look for connections. I believe that the final result will be a rather pretty network of links. There will be some central nodes within the 1000 word vomit project that subesquently “fan out” and link to all the other posts. Some posts will render entire sets of previous posts ‘obsolete’ – which is a good thing. Those posts will be ‘relegated’ to ‘sources’. I estimate that I really only have about 20-30 things to say, and maybe even those could be compressed further.

So. My next step for this project isn’t to write the next vomit yet, not quite (though I do think I have a couple of vomits on my mind). The next thing I need to do is to edit all the remaining titles I have. I’ve added these next steps to my todo list. I will get to them. And I will crush them. I anticipate that I will have a consolidated “review your stuff” post. As well as at least one for each of the tags. Procrastination, writing. I have been hesitating to make progress on those because they might be more links that writing, but that’s a silly way of thinking about it. I just need to get them off the ground. And I can publish them here in parts, before further consolidating them in the future if I need to.

Anyway, this vomit is just about done. It’s 1:06AM, time for bed. Goodnight, Visa. We’re going to do great things together.

_____

[1] Realistically I know this won’t exactly happen, but I want to state it as a goal so that I get as close to it as possible.

[2] I now have tremendous respect for any author of any extended series. They must surely do it in a piecemeal sort of way. Or otherwise go through absolute hell in editing.

 

0666 – consider the economics of pricelessness pt 1

I want to spend a vomit thinking about the economics of pricelessness.

Why am I thinking about this?

I think it’s because – I feel strained in my life. I feel like I’m being pulled in multiple directions, and that I need to find some sort of solution to this because it’s not sustainable.

There are a few possible solutions, or partial solutions, to mitigate this frustration.

  1. Identify and eliminate ‘pulls’ that are not actually ‘real’. That is, if I have some imaginary fears or expectations or wants that can be removed, I should remove them. If I haven’t already done this, it’s because I haven’t needed to. I’ve been clinging on to illusions and fantasies and whatnot.
  2. Identify and establish a more coherent narrative for myself to fit everything into.
  3. Prioritize and put together some sort of timeline/roadmap. A personal roadmap. The plan will never be able to work perfectly, but planning reveals all sorts of useful insights, so it’s worth doing.

I just thought of a simpler way of thinking about this. There must exist some truths about the environment that I’m operating in. Currently, my understanding of these truths is vague and imprecise. And so I am operating in clunky and inefficient ways. I’m not getting very much “done”. This was somewhat acceptable for some period of time, but it is starting to feel unacceptable to me now.

A part of me feels an impulse to “just quit my job and become a writer”. The precise manifestation of this impulse is interesting to me. Will such a leap work? Statistically, this is known to be a bad idea.

On meaning

You never actually ‘achieve meaning’, you just feel like you’re about to. Like you’re always on the cusp of something. This is something I have to factor into my decision-making.

Consider transactions

I tweeted about a couple of related things earlier – first, that it’s a slightly uncomfortable but probably true fact that it’s possible to buy goodwill if you’re smart about it.

Then – do you think of the human game as transactional or priceless? I’d like to believe that it’s priceless, or live in a context where it’s priceless, but reality doesn’t give a shit about what I think.

We live in a world where lots of privileged people would prefer to not have to think about things like “how much is a human life worth in dollar terms” if they can. This is a privilege of living in sheltered, middle-class type existence. The very rich and the very poor are both relatively used to making these sort of decisions all the time, I believe, but we don’t hear very much from either group.

A poor person might have to choose between paying for an expensive medical treatment or putting food on the table. This isn’t an academic exercise in a philosophy class, this is a real decision people have to make every day.

Child labor is something that’s happened around the world and continues to happen today. It was common during the British Industrial Revolution. Why did it happen, why does it happen?

(Sidenote about how frustrating it is to read Money/Finance sections of the newspaper, which leave out so much.)

Lots of people seem to be wired and/or conditioned to be disdainful of transactional relationships. Paying for sex is generally considered a bad thing, even if you’re single. Why?

What is a set of things that people don’t feel comfortable about?

  • Buying and selling people (slavery)
  • Sugar daddies
  • Selling used underwear
  • Putting a specific monetary value on a human life for insurance purposes
  • Paying for someone to spend time with you
  • Paying for therapy, counselling (someone to talk to you)
  • Going on dates with the sole intent of getting free dinners and drinks
  • Paying your children to do chores and get good grades
  • Tracking every single expense you make

Maybe, but I’m not sure:

  • Pointing out that poor immigrants’ lives are demonstrably worth less that locals
  • Poor people in general are ‘worth less’ than wealthy people

There are a couple of quotes from Lee Kuan Yew that are very transactional:

  • Mr Jeyaratnam says we’re obsessed with profits. I say, ‘YES! That’s how Singapore survives!’ If we have no profits, who pays for all these? You make profit into a dirty word, and Singapore dies.

Some bits from Venkat’s post that are really worth thinking about:

  • “Middle class people do not hire other middle class people outside of a few approved exceptions such as doctors, lawyers and accountants; they work for the rich and hire the poor.”
  • “Above all this, the middle class script involves a certain aversion to talking about or dealing with tough financial decisions. It is considered unseemly. Decent people don’t talk about money, let alone risk. If you work hard and play by the rules, the money should take care of itself. If it isn’t doing that, you are probably looking for dishonest and exploitative shortcuts like the evil rich or doing dumb things like the stupid poor, and deserve what you get.”

Ribbonfarm also notes that middle-class people generally feel uncomfortable paying other people to do things apart from clearly-defined services (plumbing, accounting, etc).

There’s something called the ‘middle class financial script‘, where you escape the need to think about financial things in transactional terms, and just ‘go with the flow’, picking the default settings – a job, a mortgage, periodic vacations and so on.

The reddit comments about the ribbonfarm essay – “explaining the generally shared intuition that monetary transactions corrupt”.

Corrupt what, exactly? How, exactly?

  • Is Your Life Worth $10 Million? (Nope, but your grandchild’s will be.) – “You’re richer than your grandparents, so your life is worth more than theirs. That’s why you live in a safer world than they did: As life gets more valuable, we strive harder to protect it.”
    • ” Should a town of 100 people spend $6 million on a piece of equipment that is likely, over the long run, to save one life? Not if a life is worth only $5 million. Buying the equipment means forcing the average taxpayer to spend $60,000 for a level of safety that’s worth only $50,000 to her.”
  • One-Fifth of an American
    • “When the immigrant crosses the border, Americans lose $3, and the immigrant gains $7. To oppose that, you’d have to count an immigrant as less than three-sevenths of an American.”
    • “The $3 loss came from $10-an-hour Americans. And we usually think of a dollar as more valuable in the hands of the desperately poor. The most conservative standard assumption is that the value of an extra dollar is inversely proportional to your income, so an extra dollar is worth five times as much to a $2-an-hour Mexican as it is to a $10-an-hour American. The immigrant’s second dollar is worth a little less, and the third a little less than that.”
    • “Accounting for all that, it turns out that the immigrant’s $7 gain is worth about five times the American’s $3 loss. In other words, to justify keeping the immigrant out, you’d have to say he’s worth less than one-fifth of an American citizen.”
 

0665 – keep going, do reviews and improve yourself

In 2000 words, I would have completed 2/3rds of this project. Strangely, I don’t have a lot of feelings about this. I seem to feel the 10% intervals more strongly – 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 and 600 were the major events. 500 especially so, probably. At 100 I felt like I was barely beginning to know what I was doing. At 200 I felt like I was starting to get into the swing of things. I think the good stuff started happening at 300. The 400s felt like a strong run. I don’t really think much about the 500s and 600s, but if I examine them I’m sure I’ll find them to be dramatically superior to the first 200.

If I partitioned them into thirds… the first third was weak, the second third was strong, and hopefully the last third will be great. I find myself waffling and slowing down – I wrote almost nothing for the entire month of April 2017. Perhaps a part of me is subconsciously terrified of not improving past this plateau. Like I’ve somehow peaked as a writer and I’m not going to get any better.

Writing down the last sentence reveals it to be hogwash. It’s a faulty limiting belief that makes no sense. It’s well-established that lots of writers take decades to get good. And it’s highly improbable that I’m not going to make any improvement over the next 300,000 words, when it’s clear that I’ve improved twice already (within this framework). Maybe I’m frustrated because it’s not super clear or obvious what the improvement is going to be?

Writing down that last sentence reveals some obvious new options. I can write down my own goals and agendas. One thing I want to get better at is partitioning my writing in a way that is presentable. That means being more reader-centric. I unshackled myself from being reader-centric when I first started this project back in 2012, because I was trapped in a very performative sort of voice. I was writing with too many words, and my sentences were overwrought. As I write this, I can sense quite clearly that I have a superior sense of rhythm now. I don’t make palatability a priority in these vomits, because the original intent was just to get everything out of my head. But I think now it’s time to revise that.

I feel like most of what was in my head is now out. This statement is probably not factually accurate – but it feels accurate because there’s just so much material here. I have written down my thoughts, but I have not really taken the time to read them. As a result, I find myself repeating my thoughts over and over again, which is boring. To make progress, I’m going to have to re-read my thoughts. To edit and consolidate. This stuff is ‘boring’ compared to the heady feeling of just writing like a maniac. But I had also said in a much earlier vomit that I didn’t want to fill up my vomits with non-stop drivel. I want my vomits to reveal progress on my part. I am my own arbiter here. I am writing to satisfy myself, to please myself, to win myself over. So if I feel that something needs to be done before I can continue writing like a maniac, then I need to do it.

I have been in two minds over what exactly needs to be done. A part of me felt like I should pause the entire project and just switch into editing mode. And I think I definitely did that for a while. But it became clear that editing the material en masse was going to be an endless task. If I had stayed on that path, I would’ve gotten anxious and frustrated. That will not do for the context of a personal project. This project is supposed to be challenging, but it’s also supposed to be rewarding. I can be a little bit of a masochist, but I’m not going to be insane about it.

So what next then? I’m going to have to do two things at once. I’m going to keep writing at a steady tempo – 1 a day would be good. And then I’m going to have to make reviews a part of my everyday process. My god, I’ve definitely said this at least a dozen times. What stops me from doing it? I know – I probably have some sort of deep rooted issues, maybe from childhood, that keeps me from doing it. My brain keeps coming up with elaborate excuses for avoiding the truth about the necessity of reviews. So I need to sit with myself and do some therapy with myself and really just made daily reviews a serious, critical part of my every day life.

I need to dig pretty deep into my brain for this. My previous attempts have not been successful. But I am not discouraged. I know that I taught myself to cook when I used to have issues dealing with food. I know that I managed to get myself to squat 90kg when I used to be afraid to even squat 40kg. (I probably can’t squat 90kg right now, but I know I can work my way back to it). I had trouble keeping up with my remedial training for NS in the past few years, but I’m going to finish them on time this year – and I plan to not have to need them next year. So that’s progress. I went months without smoking, and I don’t smoke at work – I know I can make progress on all of those things. I am a person who is capable of improving things. Of improving myself. For my own pleasure and utility.

I’m going to go to bed in a bit. I think progress is going to require me to do more meditation, more reviews. I already know this. I just avoid it all the time, because it’s scary and uncomfortable and unfamiliar maybe. But I also know that it’s far scarier and far more uncomfortable to end up being stagnant.

 

0664 – tidy up after yourself

I was feeling pretty weird and shitty for a few weeks – not an all-encompassing shitty, just a sort of background shitty. And today I took a few hours to really go through my Things (to-do list app) and to go through my various blogs and sites, and I took some time to tidy them up and clean them out. It felt quite therapeutic.

It’s funny how that is. Like, I know that all of this is going on inside my head. But it seems like there are some things that I can sort of forget and then not care about, while there are other things that gnaw at me if I haven’t done anything about them in a while. Writing is one of them. Cleaning out my todo list system is another one of them. [1]

So, let’s retrace my steps here. I know that I want to be happy and fulfilled. To have a clear-headed mind free of guilt. And what I’m learning, at least for the time being, is that I can’t quite just wish it all away, I can’t quite delude myself into thinking everything’s fine. I think this is a common theme that I used to talk about – how basically my mid-20s have been a lot about me feeling sorry for myself, and me trying to be evasive and avoidant about the nature of my reality. I face up to the reality of my situation in small doses, and then runaway from it as soon as I can. But this is unsustainable and leads to misery. It’s a sort of… it’s kind of lying being dependent on substances. You can kind of enjoy them for some period of time, but eventually that phase passes. And you need to resolutely say goodbye to the person you used to be, to the life you previously had, and recognize that there’s more.

Yes. This is the thing that is happening. I may be lucky to be married, and to have a job with colleagues that I love, and to have a home, and to still have my parents, and cats, and on all of those fronts my life has been atypically stable. Everything has been “normal day” for me, before the Fire Nation attacked. But all of this is an illusion. I’m clinging on to my sort of happy fantasy, that everything is okay and everything is good and everything will be like this forever. I know intellectually that this isn’t true, but something in my subconscious clings to it. And this clinging isn’t just to the good things, but to whatever is familiar. So even my patterns of guilt and shame and things that I dislike, my subconscious keeps going back to those scripts, keeps playing those things on repeat. It’s like I’m stuck in one phase of a video game and refusing to trigger the event that would lead to the next phase – because I know that I can’t go back.

It’s kind of funny, when you formulate something so simply. But it’s the great trap of life, isn’t it? Nirvana is about exhaling, about letting go. About the absence of attachment and clinging. And I have seen how clinging has worked out for some people. I have seen old men who are really scared little boys trying to get validation, trying to get approval, trying to feel good about themselves, who are living with layers upon layers of anger and frustration and suffering. I want to be free of all of that. I want to shake all of that shit off. Or at least, lots of that shit off.

I learned a few weeks ago that I still have some weird responses wired into me from my childhood. I have a habit of freezing up in the presence of conflict. I go quiet and avoid saying anything – which is an odd change from talking so much all the time. The same is probably true for my writing. I write and write and write as a way of trying to achieve something, trying to cling on to something. I wrote about it yesterday, I think – that I write in a sort of performance of remembrance – I’m hoping that things I write will be like buoys in a sea of darkness for me, that I’ll be able to return to my old writing and be supported by it. I’m hoping that my writing is like an Iron Man suit for my consciousness. I think so far I’m about 60/40 on that. The writing itself is just a process, a discipline. Some people perform tea ceremonies. I write.

Anyway. So I was feeling some background anxiety lately about things that were left undone, and so I got around to doing stuff about them, and I feel better now. Now the important thing is to finish up this vomit, bathe and then go to bed, and then wake up early and go to work as early as I can and start doing as much work as I can. It’s really that simple. I overcomplicate things sometimes. And I don’t know why sometimes it takes me so long to return to the basic principles that I know are what I need. I have a checklist. It’s almost like I secretly sort of enjoy feeling a little anxious and miserable from time to time. And that’s probably because of some sort of fear of crossing the next threshold. I’m clinging on to who I am in order to avoid who I want to become. This is itself a sort of violence. I need to let go.

_____

[1] At a more physical level, shaving, getting haircuts and trimming my nails all are similar – if I leave them unattended for too long, I start getting a little uncomfortable. It’s interesting to think about why this is, and how it works. I think I would be fine letting everything grow out if I was living in some sort of feral environment – like if I were on a hippie commune of some kind. But as long as I’m going to work every day, hanging out in civilization, I feel strange if I’m not well-groomed. I suppose that’s a social thing. We’re wired to take dressing from social cues. Even if there’s nobody else in the room.