0651 – in search of lost time

(Started last week, finishing this now.)

The title is a title of a book by Marcel Proust. I believe I first heard of it while reading something by Nassim Taleb – probably The Black Swan. Apparently it was a very influential novel, published in France in the 1910s and 1920s. I haven’t read the book, but I have read what others have written about it. It seems to be a book about a narrator reflecting on the passage of time, on the nature of memory. Virginia Woolf was a fan. I find myself thinking of Christopher Nolan, who I think is a modern-day version of someone who contemplates such issues and perspectives.

I’m talking about this I think because I feel like I’m getting older and like I don’t have a lot to show for it. Isn’t this the age where you’re supposed to be partying, supposed to be adventuring and so on? I experience a sort of wistful longing for the life that I’ve not led. I try to talk to other people who’ve led alternate lives, and I do find that basically everybody feels the same way. Everybody wonders if they’re on the right path. Everybody worries about the mistakes they might be making. Well not everybody, but everybody that I care about and relate to, for sure.

A colleague has mentioned to me a couple of times over the years that 27 tends to be the year that you really wisen up and go “oh shit, I’m a full adult, I’m responsible for myself and my life, I can’t be a drifter any more”. I’m 3 months away from being 27. I recall writing similar-ish blogposts about myself at ages 16, 18, 20, 21, 25 – every year is a year where you’re supposed to grow up a little, be more mature, be kinder, more gracious, more responsible, more competent, more of a genuine gift to the world. I refuse to be a person who turns 30 and is still listless, lost and confused about life. Of course, you don’t want to have a fake sort of confidence – that’s exactly what leads to a terrible midlife crisis. If I contemplate my life strategy so far, it might be fair to say that I’ve basically been elaborately trying to avoid running into a mid-life crisis. Which I think happens when you’ve been buying into a certain narrative that you’re sold – you assume certain things about how life is going to be, what is going to make you happy or fulfilled – and then after 20 years or so of that, you’ve been so invested in something, and you start to worry that it wasn’t quite right for you… and so you start to freak out and try to make some sort of drastic change at that point. Get divorced, quit your job, buy a sports car…

Yeah. So I’ve always been very skeptical of the straight path that most people seem to accept quite naturally. I don’t know if it’s because I’m some sort of ‘natural misfit’ that could just never do it, or if it was the way I was raised, or if it was the books that I read… probably some weird loop of all of the above, feeding on itself. I still remember being incredibly uncomfortable in Junior College. I’m probably misremembering it somehow that I’m older, but it seems to me now that it seemed to me then to be quite the farce. I think I had a snowball’s hope of getting into law (3-5%), and hoped to get into media (mass comm) or political science (NUS or SMU). It didn’t really occur to me that you could do really well, get a scholarship and study abroad. On retrospect, if I could live my life over, maybe that’s something I’d have aspired towards. I didn’t personally have any close family or friends who advocated for that, most seem to set their sights on local Uni. But again I might be misremembering all of this.

Where was I going with this?

At the highest level I just wanted to reflect on the passage of time, and how things change, and how things are so fragmented and multi-layered and multi-faceted, and how we remember remembering things, and we misremember things as we go. Sometimes I get the thought that I’m not going to live very long; like I’m going to get cancer or some other weird disease and die at 40 or something. I’d like to make it to at least 110 so I can live to see the year 110. But every day is a privilege, every moment is a miracle and I don’t want to take any of it for granted.

I find myself reflecting on my youth more and more these days. What was I trying to do as a kid, as a pre-teen, as a teenager, as a young adult? Where am I going with everything? What is my mind trying to wrap around, if it is at all? How are things going to change, how am I going to see things differently? What is going to surprise me? I think the big looming spectre is “parenthood” – do I want to be a dad? I actually feel like I’d be quite okay with it either way. If I don’t end up spawning my own little humans, I think I’d still find ways to get involved and help out with younger people’s lives – maybe foster kids at some point. At the same time, I have been feeling antsy about the fact that I haven’t done much travelling in my life. I’ve been mostly busy trying to stay employed. I don’t think I regret that. But I think I want more out of my life moving forward, and so I have to be a lot more deliberate about how I do whatever I do.

I wonder how I’ll feel reading this stuff a decade or two from now. I wonder if this project will be something I just lock away in the digital attic, or if it’s something I’ll revisit. I think I’ll enjoy hitting ‘random post’ from time to time.


0650 – if you’re not beating a fear, you’re hiding from it

(I started this a few days ago, I’m going to finish it now.)

I was watching a video by Ramit Sethi over dinner earlier. I can’t remember when I first encountered Ramit, but I remember that when I did, I thought he seemed a little sleazy and unlikeable. I think it was probably something to do with the title “I Will Teach You To Be Rich”, which seemed presumptuous and bullshitty. But over time, the more I’ve encountered him, the more I’ve found that he has a pretty compelling style and approach to things. I particularly like the way he constantly asks questions on Twitter.

Anyway – the takeaway I was getting from reading his material and watching a couple of his videos (I don’t know if this is the main thing he was trying to communicate, but it was what was already on my mind)  was the title of this post – which is that if you’re not beating a fear, you’re hiding from it. I’m thinking now about some other person’s point about how, if you simplify greatly, there are only two emotions – fear and love – and everything else is just derivative of that. It kind of makes sense. Love is tied with gratitude, fear is tied with anxiety and paranoia and what-have-you. I’m thinking now also about Chris Hadfield’s TED talk, which opened with “what is the scariest thing you’ve ever done”. He talked about how a person might overcome their fear of spiders by first doing the research and then deliberately walking through spider webs, deliberately handling spiders, and how that would then allow them to function in nature more comfortably. Fears, he pointed out, are often irrational and hold us back from living a fuller and more complete life.

Now I find myself thinking about this video I saw of this lady trying to confront a different fear each day for a 100 days (or something like that). And I remember how heartening it was to watch, how quickly we root for somebody who’s doing something like that. Now I’m thinking of the TV show Fear Factor, and how that was so compelling to watch. Those fears were very physical and concrete – fear of creepy crawlies, fear of gross food, fear of heights, and so on. But I think the real Fear Factor that we all live every day is far more insidious. Fear of being forgotten. Fear of failure. Fear of being ostracized, mocked, laughed at, cast out. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of guilt and shame. Fear of not measuring up, not being good enough, not being worthy of love and affection. All of these things sound a little silly and superficial when you write them down in a text editor while you’re lying in bed on a saturday night, but the reality of it is so insidious. What is stopping me from living a better life? What is stopping me from turning my life into a canvas that I then paint with all sorts of beautiful, interesting and exciting things? Fear! Fear is the primary thing holding me back. It’s easy to write it up as all sorts of technical things – I don’t know this, I don’t know that, I’m too tired, I’m too broke, I have too many commitments… but at the heart of it is always fear. And fear has to be faced head on. You have to introduce yourself to your fears. You have to say YES, hello, I am afraid of you, but I am going to face you anyway, and I am going to win.

A life where we run away from our fears is not very interesting. It’s not very compelling. It’s quite sad. We turn to cigarettes and alcohol and distractions and video games because we are afraid. I mean, those are not all necessarily horrible coping mechanisms – a little bit is always nice from time to time – but if you’re honest with yourself and you take the time to really breathe, meditate, pay attention to yourself and your life, it should be clear what you’re afraid of.

When I say you I’m talking to myself, of course. I can’t speak on behalf of anybody else. I’ve encountered some people in my life who seem pretty fearless. Or they’re really good at managing their fears. Chris Hadfield is an obvious one. Malala Yousafzai comes across as incredibly fearless.

It’s interesting also to think about the fear profiles of other people in your life who might have made your own life difficult. Think about what your parents, your spouse, your in-laws are afraid of. What are your friends afraid of? Surely everybody is living in some kind of fear. The great fear of course is death, the inevitable unknown. Sometimes I almost think that I look forward to death, because it’ll allow me to say “You know what, fuck this shit, none of this shit matters, none of it ever did, it was all one big joke, one big laugh, the universe entertaining itself” – and as I write this I find myself wanting to say “I wouldn’t recommend it tbqh”, but I can’t stand by that thought. Well, I don’t know what the alternatives are. Perhaps there’s a parallel universe out there that’s way more amazing than this one. We’ll never know. What I do know is that the current life I’m living is definitely shaped by my fears, and that is not something that I enjoy.

As I was getting to this point I wanted to remind myself to think about childhood fears. And young-man fears. I remember being afraid of my parents. Being afraid of school. Being afraid of looking bad in the eyes of my peers, being afraid of losing friends. I distinctly remember being afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get a job that I liked, that I was going to be stuck in some shitty dead-end job and turn into some rambling old man that nobody liked. I remember being afraid of food, being afraid to cook, being afraid to do squats with heavy weights, being afraid to run. All of those things are fears that I can face and conquer. And I think maybe if big, audacious goals might be a form of escapism, then a small but potent goal is this: to face my fears one at a time, and conquer them decisively like a boss.

(13 minutes.)


0649 – beware scope creep

I was writing a blogpost for work earlier today – and during my research phase I found myself effectively plotting the outline for something that could’ve been 10,000 words or more. This amused me. I’ve been writing blogposts for work for 4 years now, and yet I haven’t figured out a simple, sticky system for making sure that a blogpost is properly designed for reader consumption. This strikes me as a glaring flaw in my skillset that ought to be fixed.

When I think about this I realize that this is a symptom of a much bigger problem I’ve had all my life – my inability to make good projections about things. Lots of people post on Twitter and Tumblr and Reddit about how they have similar problems, but that doesn’t mean that everybody has the same problem – there’s a selection bias there. [1]

Anyway, the point is that I really ought to fix this problem in order to live a better life. A lot of the stress in my life comes from bad planning, from saying yes to things that I cannot handle, from drawing up projects and scopes in my head that are far bigger than necessary – often perhaps because it’s never clear to me what “enough” is. I’m recalling know a funny-sad conversation I had with my wife about work, when she asked me “how do you know when you’re done? what does done mean?” and I didn’t have an answer. I suppose in the absence of an answer, the real always was “I’m done when I’m utterly exhausted, when I’ve overshot the deadline and I’ve disappointed myself and everybody who was foolish enough to give me any semblance of responsibility.”

This is not a way to live. Life is too short to be spent agonizing internally about things that the world doesn’t actually care about. [2] [3]

So (and I’m certain I’ve said this before in a much earlier vomit, but it bears repeating) I need to get in the habit of delivering on what was initially promised. A problem here is that initial promises are often vague. So I need to take into account the amount of time and resources I have to get any particular thing done. A decent blogpost on any given topic shouldn’t have to be more than 1,000 words. It shouldn’t have to quote more than 10 people. Once you get into that territory you’re working on something more substantial. Which is fine, but you need to be clear with yourself that that’s what you’re doing.

I find myself thinking now about Carl Zimmer’s point, about how writing is like building a ship in a bottle. You do a ton of research and reading, and you have all that information in your head about everything there is to know about a topic – but then you try to start writing and you’re stuck in all sorts of contortions, because it’s simply impossible to convey that much information one word at a time in a series of a few thousand words. All the research really lets you do is figure out the story that you want to tell. And that story is necessarily going to be a mere shadow of what’s inside your head. You have to be okay with that, really early on. And you have to be prepared to discard and start over.

I believe there’s a school of thought in programming or some form of project management that you should plan to throw your first iteration away, since you’re probably going to end up having to do it anyway. This reduces the stress and anxiety you’ll have when trying to figure out precisely when you should start over. Da Vinci said that all art is merely abandoned, never finished. But this process of abandonment shouldn’t have to be so agonizing. As creatives we should know how to be ruthless without breaking our hearts at every single instance of iteration.

I haven’t been writing as many word vomits as I’d like, as frequently as I’d like. I still haven’t quite figured out how I’m supposed to feel about it. A part of me feels that I should obviously be shipping at least one vomit a day, however bad it gets. That’s the professional thing to do, and I want to be professional. So I’m not going to make excuses for that. I’m just going to describe how it feels to do it, so that I can understand my situation better and subsequently (I hope) perform better as well. The reason I’m slow with publishing vomits is because I’m not clear about the scope of what I should be writing in a given vomit. Sometimes it feels like I’m almost always writing inside my head, even when I’m not writing in a text editor or on pen and paper. That “writing” happens in a very subconscious way – just ideas moving around inside my head, shuffling back and forth, almost imperceptibly. I don’t actually know what is going on. But if I sit down with the word processor, I feel stuck.

(Is this true? Is this really true? How often do I really sit down with the intention of writing? I think I might be making excuses for myself here. I think if I really sit down – if I tell myself that I need to write something in half an hour’s time or else – then I’ll have something lined up inside my head. What I do know is that this process makes demands of the subconscious.)

So I do need to sit down and write every day. At least going through the process of a thousand words a day I think gives me a sense of what can be achieved in a few minutes in a given space. Anyway, tonight I’m hoping to crank a few out. It’s now 840pm. Let’s go.


[1] People with our specific problem seem to have a propensity to talk about the problem that we have. And we dominate online conversational spaces, so we’re definitely overrepresented. You don’t hear from the people who are quietly going about their lives, getting shit done. All conversational space is dominated by edge cases – you never see “dog bites man” as a headline, only “man bites dog”. And so it’s easy to infer, erroneously, that there are all sorts of epidemics of dog-biting men.

[2] And the world cares about some really silly things, too. But you get the idea.

[3] I’ve enjoyed the past couple of uses of footnotes. My mind has a habit of thinking divergently and exploring those offshoots of thought. This sometimes leads to something better than what I had originally set out to do. But it more often than not leads to a lot of frustration and anxiety.



0648 – work through the discomfort

Would be nice to be able to complete a word vomit right now before I got to bed. Let’s run through a quick status update.

I slept quite late last night after having a long conversation with the wife. I do not ever regret this, even if it means that I’m sleepy and groggy at work the next day. I think one should always make it a point to prioritize a good conversation about an important relationship whenever it comes up.

I’ve been feeling a little anxious and stressed lately because I’ve been feeling a little overwelmed with all of the commitments and obligations I have. I definitely have more on my plate than I’ve ever had, so it’s important to be as balanced as I can. I really need to zoom out, see the big picture, let some things fail, and systematically make the best decisions that I can. Right now it does feel like finishing a word vomit would be a good idea. Then I’ll need to go to bed.

I’ve been doing something on Facebook that I’m quite happy with. I try to write a mini-essay in a moderate amount of time – either when I’m buying a cup of coffee early in the morning, or when I’m commuting to work, or when I’m buying coffee near work (if I didn’t buy it earlier in the morning). I try to write about something that’s on my “to write” list. A lot of those items have been sitting there for months if not years. And so it’s very satisfying to get them out of my system. I’m already beginning to think of what I’m going to write over the next few days, and how I’m going to use the constraint of “I only have a few minutes to talk about this, I’ll elaborate on it if people respond to it but otherwise I’m just going to lay out my starting thoughts and leave it at that”.

Another thing I’m happy about is the idea of having a bookmark on my Chrome that points to http://visakanv.com/1000/?random – it solves a problem I’ve had for some time – how do I keep myself interested in reading my own material? The idea of starting all over from 1 was tedious and annoying to me – I had already read the first 10-100 vomits over and over again. Random allows me to hop back and forth. I thought I would have to to use some sort of plugin to get it, but turns out that ?random works for (seemingly) all wordpress blogs.

What’s next? I’m very excited about the prospect of being able to go through my “to write” list by writing status updates on Facebook. I feel like my friends are supportive of it, which is something I’ll admit I was a bit worried about. Which maybe brings me to the main thing I might want to talk about. I realize that I have an actual real fear of asking people for what I want. I’ve somehow been trained or conditioned over the years to think that it’s bad to ask for things. I know it sounds a little weird or silly coming from me – a lot of people assume that I’m this very extroverted, assertive person – but I’m really only that way with words. I was never really “social”. I found an explanation that made sense to me – the idea is that kids who grow up reading books more than talking with other kids end up developing ‘unwonted interiority’ – we spend ‘too much time’ in our own heads. Of course there’s no such thing as an optimal amount of time, it all depends on what you want out of life, and what sort of person you are. Some people drive themselves mad with their internal lives but also end up producing the most amazing art. Is that what I want? I don’t think it’s so binary. I think it’s possible to have a reasonably healthy life and also make good art.

I want to make good art. I want to write. I want to create. I believe that I have greatness within me that needs to come out. I still believe that. I just need to do the work. I can’t see the entire staircase, but I am confident that my confusion and lack of answers is a strength, not a weakness. I have high standards and I’m difficult to satisfy. I just need to live with the discomfort and work through it.

That’s a common motif for a lot of things in life. Once you’re clear about what you want, you have to learn to live with the discomfort and work through it. This isn’t universal advice – sometimes when you feel pain, you should stop, because it means that you’re hurting yourself. With music, you want to practice with perfect form and then stop when your form starts failing, because you don’t want bad form to be a part of your playing. I wonder if the same applies to life in general. I think it’s quite likely.

I was thinking to myself on the way home earlier today that I was feeling some sugar cravings. And I marvelled for a while at how a body can have some very real cravings. Is it the body or is it the mind? It’s not all in the mind. It’s all connected. And I know so little about it. I know so little about how I feel. I spend all my time inside my head but definitely not enough time in my body.

Anyway. I think I’m making progress. It’s not as linear as I’d like, but I find myself circling around the right things, and returning to the things that matter. I’ll be turning 27 this year, so I think I have to definitely have to make some changes. The time for doubting and uncertainty is diminishing – there will always be some, but I think I’ve learned enough about myself to be able to make some projections with confidence. I think I can settle on what I have on my plate and really just work hard at it for the next 3 years or so. And I really look forward to meeting the end of this project – meeting the person I will be at the end of it. Can’t wait.


0647 – empty your cup and be free

I was working late yesterday when I found out about NASA’s discovery – that there are 7 exoplanets orbiting a dwarf star ~40 light years away from our solar system. I found myself very happy at the discovery. I was pleased. I was delighted. I was excited. It stimulated a part of me that hasn’t been stimulated in quite a while. And I felt light, and a sense of joy and gratitude.

The next day, right before I was going to call it a night and go get showered, I discovered that Radiohead had finally recorded True Love Waits. Every recording I’ve heard before was a taping of a live show. There was one that I liked – the quality wasn’t amazing, but there was a desperate earnestness about it that really always hit me right in the chest. And I hadn’t listened to that in quite a while, either. So I listened to both, one after another. And I went to shower, and now I’m in bed, with the lights off, with my laptop, listening to the new song. And I have feelings. I feel grateful. I feel old(er). I feel a sense of the passage of time – how there are neurons in my brain that still hold on to these old ideas and memories, after all these years. I must’ve first learned about Radiohead when I was 13 or 14. I can’t have been older than 15 when I first heard True Love Waits. And now it’s been more than 10 years later. I’m married. I’ve been working for a few years. But there’s still a certain peace that comes over me from listening to this. I’m not sure why exactly. And I’m not sure if it’s particularly knowable. But I know that I’d like to sit in this space and continue listening to it, and to see what happens next.

The thought that seems to be coming to me is “it’s okay”. What’s okay? Everything is okay. You don’t need to win. You don’t need to be famous. You don’t need to defend and protect yourself from the judgements of others. You COULD, but the cost of being isolated under all that armor is higher than the cost of just getting hurt. There are probably some exceptions to this – like sometimes if you’re hurting bad, then it makes perfect sense to put on some armor for your own safety. You shouldn’t have to justify your choice – it’s your choice. You get to deide what you want to do within the limited set of options we have.

Let go of your stress. Let go of your outdated ideas about what need to happen next, how your trip needs to unfold in order for you to have a good time. Your trip is your trip. There are going to be surprises (both pleasant and unpleasant). And here while listening to Radiohead on YouTube I find some beauty in the comments – everything is more complicated than you think, life is the most infinitesimal, precious thing and yet we spend it anxious, stressed, tired, in agony. Life should be ecstasy, or it should at least have ecstatic moments.

I feel like I want more out of life, but I also simultaneously want to be less attached to outcomes and be more at peace with who i am in the given moment. I need to be more mindful. I need to be more present. I need to be less swept away by the noise and hustle and bustle of the moment, and find my own inner calm. I’m halfway there right now, drifting off to sleep before I even finish this word vomit.

So I gotta stay up long enough to finish this train of thought. And I’ve learned from reading my old material that it’s a bad idea to try and cover multiple ideas all at once. Better to just focust on one thing and cover that as thoroughly as you can, even if you think you’re wasting your time and you could do more. This isn’t about your feelings as a writer. This is about what will be your experience later on when you’re reading it, when you’re trying to process it. At some point you’re going to have to cut off limbs so that the body can survive. When you’re in that situation, you don’t want to be overflowing with limbs.

// nothing goes as planned
everything will break
people say goodbye
in their own special way //

I feel like I’m done but I should circle back around and do some meta-commentary. I think it’s good to be able to feel sad from time to time. I think it’s good to cry from time to time. I think I don’t cry enough. I think I don’t feel sad enough, and I think that’s what eventually puts me into a sort of depressive state when I get into one. It’s a lack of warmth, lack of discharging of stress and feelings, a lack of catharsis. A human must make time for himself or herself. The way I’m currently spending my weekends is wrong. I can’t just keep trying to force myself to do things when I need some novelty, I need some change. I need to get out of the house. I need more time by the Esplanade, from time to time. I could do with more of the occasional coffee. I could schedule that with myself every week; why not? What’s stopping me?

Nothing. Nothing. I’m in my own way. My cup is too full for me to fill it with something better. I need to practice emptying my cup. Simultaneously, I need to have faith that it will be okay. I am not a child any more. I am able to get some things done. Yes I will make some mistakes, but mistakes are survival. I can let go of my shame. I am proud to make mistakes, because it means that I am making decisions. I’m going to learn to love and enjoy the pain, because I treat myself with mercy and kindness and love. And true love waits.


0646 – excite yourself and spill paint everywhere, bitch

I was talking with a friend a while ago about the idea that we all have within us a consciousness that is ‘deeper’ and ‘greater’ than our ‘normal everyday self’. The everyday self is a sort of shell. It’s an interface that we create, one that’s consistent and coherent and relatively simple. We do it to make it easier for other people to interact with us. We need to be a certain way when we’re on a crowded train, or when we’re buying food from a crowded market.
I’m thinking now about how some people complain about how everybody else is only talking about small talk – “i’m so tired of small talk, why don’t you tell me about your hopes and dreams and fears and about whether your believe in aliens or an afterlife or god” and so on. And in a sense that might be a sort of virtue-signalling, a way of saying “look at me, I think big interesting thoughts, I’m not a small-minded person like all the sheeple”.
But also at the same time I’m not so sure how receptive people are to thinking and talking about “big things” all the time. I had this idea for an app called “BigTalk”, which is like chat roulette but everybody is primed to talk about “big things”, like what your dreams are, what your relationship with your parents is like, do you want to have children, what would you do if money was no object… actually as I reflect on this I still think like it might be a decent idea. But I’m a little bit bored about the idea of it, for some reason. And I suppose it’s because as I get older I feel like I’ve heard it all before. I’m thinking about having watched Tony Robbins “I Am Not Your Guru”, and how all these people were speaking their truth, and their values, and who they were, what they really felt, and it all seemed a little… vacuous? I don’t mean to say that they were fake or lying or anything like that. I mean that ultimately maybe we’re all striving for the same sort of thing, like there’s a limited set of human values and that we don’t differ very much from it. It’s not really possible to be original in that regard. Nobody can say anything truly new, and even if they could, how interesting or useful could it be?
I think that I have less interest in big picture talk, but I’m saying that while I’m sitting at home on my laptop. When I’m given the chance to discuss it with a teenager – when younger people come to me with questions – I do leap at the opportunity to help out, to be useful. And maybe to preach a little. I suppose that’s what all older people do, to some degree. It’s a challenge to focus on them and to ask them questions and ask them what they think and what they What am I interested in, then?
I want to see things get done. I want to see things get built. I’m not so interested in the little details on a day to day basis. Maybe I’m being a little naive or I’m missing out on something – I’m sure that I haven’t completely run dry, that there’s always the possibility of somebody saying something or showing me something that blows my mind, that fills my heart, that makes me feel something magnificent. But I’m not so sure if I can get that out of reading a passage, or out of watching a video, or something like that… god this sounds so much more cynical than I want to be. But all of this is temporary I’m sure. What I’m trying to get at i that things need to change. The environment needs to change. There’s no point singing hippie kumbayah songs in a circle and hugging trees and whatnot and then going on to destroy the goddamn planet. Feelings are all very touching but THEN WHAT? What next? What happens next? What concrete things are going to happen, are going to change? How is the world going to be better? What gaping hole are we going to put into the ground?
I want more out of my life. So much more. I want to meet more people. I want to read new things. I want to learn new things. A while ago my big limiting factor was my inability to cook. Now I can cook. My next big limiting factor is the way I think about my time and money. I need to get good at scheduling. I need to get good at budgeting. I need to look at my money in a much more fine-grained way, the way I’ve learned to deal with chicken breasts and steaks and minced beef and tuna. I need to start spending money to build things that I want to build. I need to build out my blogs. I need to finish this word vomit project ASAP. I need to hire writers for the Statement blog. I need to do book reviews of LKY’s book and all the other civil servant books because goddamnit nobody else is doing it!
If I feel tired and bored and annoyed and frustrated with the world, it’s because of my lack of imagination, my lack of perspective, my lack of physical skill and technical know-how. I need to stop looking at cars going by and cross the fucking road. I need to Get Things Done goddamnit, one little thing at a time, one thing after another, more, more, more. I need to get addicted to that feeling. I need to measure my self-worth according to the amount of work that I ship – and I know that sounds a little bit workaholicy– I can balance that by also working out and socialising with people. I just want a bigger life. I feel like I’m ready for it. It just needs me to fucking burst everything open and just spill the paint everywhere, and then mess it up and get it wrong and then do it again and again and again. It’s always so easy to be excited as fuck in the middle of the night when it’s 1:17am. The challenge is to hold that excitement with you throughout the day. To be excited again and again. To excite yourself. To move fast and break things.


0645 – manage your psychology

Some of the best and most interesting conversations I’ve ever had have been with my boss, who has more experience and perspective than me. I find it helpful sometimes to reflect on the things he’s said that didn’t seem immediately obvious or intuitive to me. Off the top of my head, some of these ideas are…

  • “Maybe you should find new friends / hang out with better people.”
  • “What exactly are your desired end-states?”
  • “What’s stopping you from getting what you want? Why isn’t X happening?”
  • “Isn’t that entirely within your control?
  • “What is your system of doing things? Everybody has a system, whether they articulate it or not.”
  • “If you want to achieve great things, you have to become a person who insists that shit gets done.”
  • “The hardest thing is really managing your own psychology.”

I want to reflect on that last particular point. The way I think about it is this – every person has some amount of resource available to them. It’s a very limited resource – and as I get older I’m beginning to see how this resource is far scarcer than I ever let myself believe.

For over a decade, I’ve been buying into my own bullshit that I have a vast amount of energy just waiting to be unlocked, waiting to be tapped into. The longer I’m around, the longer it becomes clear that that just simply isn’t the case. There are vanishingly few magical days where I crank out hour after hour of incredibly productive work.

This is a painful and uncomfortable truth for me to internalize, and when I look back on my life I think it becomes obvious that I run away from this truth whenever I can. But I’m getting older and I’m getting tired of lying to myself, I’m getting tired of avoiding the truth. The quote from Ray Dalio comes to mind – success happens when you engage honestly with life’s truths, and failure happens when you avoid them. (Precise quote: success is a matter of accepting and successfully deal with the realities of your life.)

So a reality of my life is that things don’t get done unless I’m really focused, and I don’t have a lot of focus – if focus was a muscle, I’m incredibly unfit. I often feel like a fraud when I show up to work – I feel like I’m pretending to be somebody I’m not, like I’m wearing a mask. I’m faking my way through everything, saying and doing whatever it takes to just get through each interaction. And this is despite having one of the best working environments imaginable. I don’t want to get into too many details there except to emphasize that this is entirely on me, this is entirely a function of my weaknesses and failings and failures. And I don’t want to dwell on those, either – I want to focus on building strength and power.

I have made some breakthroughs in my life. They feel like they’re too few and far between, so I need to do them more. The most recent ones were with exercise and cooking, and in bits and pieces about being accountable and responsive at work. I’m still nowhere as high-functioning or as professional as I want to be. Okay, so what’s stopping me from doing that? It’s not a lack of knowledge. My mind is a junkyard of tonnes and tonnes of information, and I know how to search for the things that I want.

I think the #1 missing thing from my life is a sort of efficient central engine that keeps me on track. I alluded to this myself 4 years ago when I wrote “productivity apps fill buckets when they should be lighting fires” – my point there was that I wasn’t sufficiently lighting a fire under my own ass. A conversation I have with one of my friends over and over again is that I wish I had a peer that I really admired – not a mentor (though I suppose I could always use more of those), but a peer – something like a Lennon-McCartney, Axl-Slash, Tolkien-Lewis relationship. Somebody who would challenge me to be better, who I could challenge in turn. And I’m starting to think that maybe the reason I don’t have someone like that in my life is that I don’t meet the criteria. A great peer isn’t looking for someone she needs to prop up, she’s looking for someone she finds intrinsically inspiring. And so I need to become intrinsically inspiring. I need to manage my psychology well enough that I naturally have a fire inside my belly.

It’s a little bit sad to think about how much less idealistic I’ve become over the last 4-5 years, but those feelings are just feelings. I can wallow in them, or I can just acknowledge them and then use them to inform my next decisions. I’m still only 26 years old. I could still turn this ship around and have a great decade ahead of me. Sometimes I feel like I’m not going to live very long, like I’m going to die at 35 or 40 or something. I don’t know why I have that feeling, I just do. I feel this sense of urgency. There’s a strange thing about having a ton of urgency in your mind and yet simultaneously being totally still and totally distracted. It’s probably best exemplified by the phrase “deer in headlights”. That’s been me for 20 years and it just won’t do anymore. I have to cut that shit out. I’m going to finish up my vomit then I’m going to throw myself into just slashing through all of my tasks in my Todo list.

I need to manage my psychology. I need to be in charge of motivating myself, finding purpose, orienting myself, deciding what needs to happen next, getting things done and earning my own respect. Becoming proud of myself. I’m going to go for a run in about 45 minutes once I’m done with a few tasks. I have a good life, one of the better ones by far. I can do a lot better than I’m currently doing. I believe that to be true. But what I need to focus on is taking the next step. Lots and lots of little steps. I believe it.


0644 – be mindful of time and the little things

Time passes incredibly fast. I was at work earlier, and it was maybe 530pm. Next thing I knew, it was 7pm, then 730. And I left. I got home. Worked out in my home gym for a while. And then it’s 930pm. So I shower and prepare to go to bed. I thought maybe I ought to write a word vomit before I slept. Hopefully I’d have been able to be done by 1030 or 1045, and be asleep by 11pm. But now it’s 1159pm and I’m only just starting to write this.
Clearly, I’m incredibly time-blind. [1] My sense of time passing is completely mistaken, mislaid.
I find myself wandering through the bookshelves of my mind, running my fingers along the various books and essays I’ve read about the nature of time. The book that features most prominently is A Sideways Look At Time by Jay Griffiths. She spoke eloquently, at her own pace, about the ills and perils of man’s obsession with colonising time the same way he’s colonised space – and how we all live in tidy little demarcations – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. 9-5 jobs, 5 workdays a week, 10 days of leave a year. Public holidays that have become commercialised routines. Everything goes according to plan, everything is planned to bits, calendars are filled out in 15 minute intervals. The Earth itself is not precise enough for man, with its imperfect rotation requiring the addition of leap days and seconds every 4 years.
I’m not sure where I stand on this. I think there are a few points on a continuum [2]. At one end, we have a sort of total idleness and indifference to time, which few people ever really get to experience. Getting to that state either requires a sort of renouncement of everyday life – becoming a nomadic wanderer type, a wildling –or it requires (I think) having a substantial amount of resources. Fuck You Money. What that precise $ amount is, isn’t quite so clear. But when you get to that state, then yeah maybe you can really operate entirely on your own internal rhythm.
Internal rhythm. Now that’s a phrase I hadn’t thought about when I started writing this. I was just thinking, what is up with me? Why is time passing me by so quickly? Why is so little getting done, and why do I feel a little bit neurotic about it? I feel like I should be more productive, like I should carve up my time into little blocks and then get very specific things done in those little boxes.
And there’s a part of me that’s very against all of that. Like there’s a part of me with a death wish of some sort, wilfully just refusing to follow orders, to obey, trying to sabotage almost everything I do. Some literature has pointed out that this saboteur is really just fear, trying to maintain stasis, trying to keep things familiar, avoid anything challenging or difficult. And I know in my life that too much stasis is basically death. You can get too comfortable with any one thing, and too much comfort is also basically death. I need to get myself uncomfortable.
And yet at the same time I find myself feeling chronically, deeply, spiritually tired. So I gotta run through my checklist. How is my sleep? It’s okay, I think. How is my exercise? Ah, I haven’t been exercising as much as I should. So I hit the bench press earlier today, and I do feel better in a ‘deep physical way’ – I mean, under my skin, the engine seems to be purring. What about diet? I think I’m eating okay. I don’t think I’m drinking too much coffee. What about hydration? I’m drinking water, but probably not enough. What next? I need to be doing these vomits regularly and get them out of my system, because they’re cathartic. It doesn’t matter if I don’t reach the end-goal with tremendous perfection. I just need to get there, and then I can drop.
But gosh, I do think I need a bigger break. I think I need to get away from home and go somewhere else, maybe by myself. I took a break last year around Christmas-time, and I mostly spent it just lounging around the house for a week and a half. I didn’t get a lot done. A part of me regrets that, feeling like I wasted my time off. A part of me felt like lounging was precisely what I needed. But it’s been barely two months later and I’m already feeling lethargic and listless. I’ve gotten a lot better at dealing with lethargy and listlessness – I can function despite it – but I also think the point is to get to a state where I’m NOT lethargic and listless. Like, that’s just not how life should be.
The wife’s got 3.5 weeks left to go on her course, which involves both of us waking up really early and leaving home together, and neither of us having much energy to do things around the house when we get home. It does make me appreciate the amount of time and energy she spent every day just keeping shit in order – laundry and dishes alone can be massive timesinks. But they can also be time spent watching good videos or listening to good podcasts, so I’m not so sure.
What I do need – what I do remember thinking was – that it’s important to fix the little things. To be mindful, and to make changes to the small things that repeat themselves.
[1] I’ve written about this before I’m sure, but lately I’ve been thinking it’s not so bad if I repeat myself. I’ve clearly developed a more coherent voice. I write with bolder, cleaner strokes now. It’s worth repeating myself if things get clearer, more succinct, more punchy.
[2] And as I write this I wonder about where the metaphor of a continuum comes from, where I inherited that, and what the alternative metaphors might’ve been.


0643 – greet death at the door

A friend’s father passed away earlier today. I talked about him getting cancer in word vomit 0010. This is word vomit 0642.  0010 was in December 2012. It’s now February 2017. The man battled cancer for 4 full years. I wasn’t close to him, but he was just one of those figures that’s sort of in the periphery of your life. I remember him as a man who was gracious, gentle and yet firm. He had a calming, grounding presence about him. He seemed to me to be a man who took care of business. I could respect that. It’s sad to think that he’s gone, but it’s also heartening to know that the love he put into the world still lives on in his loved ones. And even in me, in a small way.

I got the news when I was sitting at a table with my colleagues, laughing and having coffee together at the end of a work week. It was an interesting, jarring experience for me to be in those two places at once. To glance at my phone and consider the profound sadness that my friend must’ve been feeling at the loss of his father – how thoroughly his universe must have been shaking and bleeding around him – and then to look up and see the smiles and laughter on my friends’ faces. I chose to be still in that moment, to allow myself to be in both worlds at once. In life we are in death, all the time. We live in a social reality that hides this fact from us most of the time – unless we work in an emergency room, or a children’s hospital, or as first responders. I think about this every so often when I’m on my daily commute, crushed against hundreds of other people. Surely, in the course of my day, I walk past people who are ticking time-bombs. We are all ticking time-bombs, of course, but some have far less time on the clock than others. I wonder how many know it, I wonder how many don’t. I wonder how many people I’ve spoken to or made eye contact with who have died.

We’re all going to die. We’re all getting closer to death every single day. It doesn’t always feel like it. It’s so easy to be swept up in the currents of everyday life, to think that all sorts of little things are “important” when they’re really not. It’s really true – that one day you’re going to get a phone call that the most important person in your life has died, and on that day you’re going to realize how little anything actually matters. The only thing that truly, deeply matters is love. It’s that we treat each other with kindness and respect and grace and decency. And again, these things are easy to talk about when we’re in the mood for talking, when we’re giving sermons, preaching to the choir. It’s much harder to hold on to when everyday reality kicks your teeth in. [1]

I’m sure I’ve written about this several times over the course of these word vomits. The one that strongly comes to mind is when Lemmy Kilmister died, right before the wave of 2016 celebrity deaths that troubled so many people. I found myself reflecting and reminding myself – this is not a practice life. This is it. We’re live. We’re on air. Wherever you go, there you are. If you’re not here for this moment of your life, you’ve missed this moment of your life. That’s it, that’s all there is to it. There are couple of other vomits circling around the same ideas – 0538 – red in tooth and claw is about how civilization is sanitized and cleaned up in a way that isn’t representative of how death and decay is so much a part of life. And in 0637 – YOLO, I thought about how it would be a good idea to have some sort of regular tempo for reflecting and meditating on death, to think about the transience of all things.

I definitely feel like I don’t do that enough. I don’t slow down enough. And I don’t want to slow down simply because I think slowing down is a sexy, high-status thing to do – I want to slow down because I think it’ll help me appreciate life better, help me enjoy more out of life. I’m kind of hedonistic that way. I want to experience a wider, broader range of what life has to offer. 10 years of life should be different from 1 year of life repeated 10 times. I’ve already repeated myself 2-3 times in the past few years, I think. It’s very important to me that I start doing things differently, I start appreciating life from newer perspectives. My current configuration has gotten stale, and that itself is a sort of minor death – the body is alive, the heart is beating, the nerves are firing, but the soul is disengaged. And by soul I mean the deep subconscious, the dark, watery subconscious where most things are going on most of the time.

The end of a life is a sad thing. We the living live amidst death, constantly. If nothing else, we should use death as inspiration to live harder, live with great fury and intensity. Live, damn it. Live.


[1] I’m thinking now about stories I’ve heard about stubborn old men who disown their children or family members to communicate disapproval, and then show up at their funerals as though that makes them ‘a good person’ in some way. Like they’re finally willing to bury the hatchet… now that the other person is dead! That won’t do. That reads like cowardice to me. If you’re going to be so petty as to ignore someone while they’re alive, then have the conviction to continue to ignore them upon their death. Making some sort of twisted exception for death (especially in view of others) doesn’t make you a better person, it makes you an opportunist. I suppose I would have less of a bad opinion of people like this if they went to the wake(s) in private, or at least avoided making any comments. But if you go to the funeral of someone you ostracized, and then have something to say… that’s pretty despicable.


0642 – callie’s world

So what do I know so far. We have Calliope, Talia. A peer of Callie who’s very different from her. And some sort of Tony Stark/Handsome Jack/Elon Musk type character, not sure if he’s the big bad. He runs some corporation that’s presumably exploitative… this corporation will probably be a proxy for Google, Amazon, Tesla, Shinra, Hyperion. This corporation needs to be different from the rest in order for the story to be interesting. It needs to do good things, it needs to be legitimately improving the world in some way. Maybe having just one corporation would be a little too simplistic.
Also need to think about the government. Natural resources. Religion. What do people believe? How are resources allocated? How developed is AI/magic? Maybe I need to learn from the corporation in Enders Game.
So Calliope starts out in some sort of boring suburban sort of setting, but something happens that makes her leave it. I don’t think I can kill her parents off; that would be too lazy. Maybe she’s raised by grandparents? Or if she’s raised by her parents… what are their expectations for her? What is the cultural raga she inherits?
Think about Final Fantasy. Cloud’s dad is never mentioned. He leaves his small town to join the army and become a SOLDIER. What happens to the protagonist from Lost Illusions? He borrows money from a friend, has a shitty relationship with his dad who low-key exploits him. But then he exploits his friend (brother in law?).
Terrangima- no mention of parents. Luke Skywalker’s adopted parents die in a town razing. Terra’s father was an Esper, her mother…? Died at childbirth? Died when the worlds got rifted apart?
What if the people in this world believed that God was a software engineer, or some sort of AI or programmer? “In the beginning there was the command line”… ah, Google says its Cryptonomicon. I should probably get around to reading that, so I don’t waste too much time trying to reinvent things that I can just adapt and remix.
What would be the name of the Musk character? Shall we give him a biblical name? That sounds fun. Bible character names for the evil folk. Solomon? David? Joshua? I’m thinking Solomon. There’s something semi-likeable about that name. I’ll probably also include folks like Elisha or Elijah, Jedediah, Obadiah, stuff like that. Maybe. We’ll see.
What else do I want to think about. Okay, so I have Callie, Talia, Solomon. Solomon might maybe have an annoying partner, associate or lackey named Saul.
What else? What about their respective families? And what about the peer of Callie that I haven’t figured out yet? I’m guessing that Callie generally has this sense of uncertainty, nervousness, doubt… somewhat Hamlet-ish in that regard. And so Callies friend would have to be someone oddly peaceful, oddly serene, seemingly a little naive, happy to ‘walk by faith and not by sight’. What would this person’s name be? I’d like a name that’s bordering on Muslim. In Ender’s Game, this character might’ve been Alai. Scrolling through a list of names, I quite like Afra. Maybe Ofra. Or Nawal, or Nawar. Salwa. Something a little bit subtle like that. But the character can’t be precisely Muslim, that would be a little too on the nose. They’re a little continental – I’m hearing words like Sufi and Rumi, even though I don’t really know those things / people very well.
Okay, we have a bunch of characters. What are the possible conflicts? Very often in stories the conflict is something that rises quite dramatically. Even in Harry Potter, in the first book, Voldemort has technically returned. There was an age of darkness before the start of the book, and we’re returning to it. In Mass Effect, it’s a routine mission and you find out that the end of the galaxy is pending. Something similar with Ender’s Game and the Contact wars. Star Trek was a series, and so we had a character just sort of… show up.
Okay, pause. I don’t actually need to get around to writing some major conflict driven novel from the get go. It’s tempting to go, oh yeah, this is my first novel, all done! But it would be much, much more sensible to write short stories. And short stories can be “star trek like”, or anime like – they don’t need to follow some epic existential risk type scenario; they can be filler episodes. And yeah maybe I should think about this like I’m writing for a TV show, or a weekly Medium series or something like that… something like Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles maybe? The Callie Chronicles? I don’t have to write everything around these same few characters. But I could start with one for each of them, and then see what crops up in each of those short stories. Or chapters, rather. A book is made up of chapters, and each chapter is supposed to be a near-standalone reading experience.
It’s very tempting to sort of sit down and write elaborate biographies for each character… but I’m pretty sure that that would be a bad idea, somehow. Rather I need to think of interesting situations to put them into. What would they be good at? What would they be bad at? What are they happy about, proud of, embarrassed by? And is there a different set of questions I should be asking each character? This is the interesting part where I get to figure out what my process is for making these characters more precise. They’re already sort of ‘in the ether’, having perhaps coalesced from the source material in my mind. And now I have to get to know them. I might be able to ask one to introduce herself to me, I might have to interrogate another. I might have to spy on one. I might have to chat up another. Each character will probably have a preferred context, a natural element. And it will be interesting to throw them out of it. I should apply the Pixar Storytelling rules / filter to come up with something interesting.p