WHY Interesting People (or: 10/6)

Look, I really am quite mad. I know people don’t think so. They seem to think I’m moderately well-adjusted. But that’s the result of decades of somewhat disturbing levels of practice. Frankly I consider such a mistaken impression to be a quite explicit compliment to my intelligence, which is arguably NOT something that serves my ego very well.

“No you’re not. You’re selling yourself short.” Or “You’re too hard on yourself.” Which is adorable because I’m nowhere NEAR hard enough on myself.

The amount of energy I spend…that I HAVE to spend literally practicing being normal absolutely defies what most people would think of as logical. MOST of what comes out of my mouth I’ve practiced. And when I say most I mean something on the order of 97-98 percent of the sentences I come out with have been literally rehearsed. I’ve built conversation trees in my head over decades. I’ve listened and eavesdropped and added what I’ve heard and overheard to the giant conversation tree.

“Dude you don’t REALLY do that.”



So that in those moments I find myself in conversation I don’t have to think overmuch, because in my normal headspace when it comes to the normal ebb and flow of social interaction my brain locks up almost completely.

This way I don’t have to rely on thinking at all. I can just lean back, stress out and let my mouth just go.

I’ve gotten so comfortable with this that I forget it’s even going on. Yesterday I was reminded quite starkly when a conversation took a turn I was simply not ready for. I’d had an erroneous prediction as to the way it was going to go and I got completely fucking blindsided. Now it wasn’t BAD in any way at all. A friend of mine was doing me a solid favor and I just did NOT see it panning out the way it did. I ended up clamming up, just shaking with nerves.

It was a conversation over text message so it wasn’t visibly apparent that my brain was just seizing up. But the disadvantage of that was that I couldn’t really cope with it ad-hoc, reading the conversation and fessing up to what happened to my head.

I responded a bit…perfunctorily and spend the next few hours in a damned tailspin as I tried to figure out how to handle it all.

So that’s pretty much the rule…

UNLESS AND UNTIL I’m comfortable with who I’m speaking with. Now that can happen one of a couple/few ways:

  • I’ve known you long enough and am less worried about how the conversation’s going to go. Said another way: If I think I’ve built up enough good will and social capital with you, I can relax a bit. It’s not always based on time known. But then again, neither is knowing someone. Sometimes you just hit it off with someone and can cut through the bullshit.
  • I’m drucking funk. Nothing chills my brain the hell out like 3 glasses of whiskey or rum, or half a dozen vodka sodas.

I could pretend that’s not true I suppose. But I don’t see the sense in it. Alcohol lowers inhibitions. As such it’s really a minor miracle I drink as rarely as I do, though over the last few days I’ve sure put a hurting on some bottles of great rum at the cigar lounge.

I wondered, as I wrote this, if this meant that I, by my own definition, wouldn’t classify as An Interesting Person until at least one of those criteria is satisfied. I’m willing to take that hit.

But I like to think it’s not true. I’m not ‘a dishonest participant’ in conversation even at what I’ve got to call my “most contrived.” I just keep it bounded until something happens that actually engages my interest and I can actually fucking relax a bit.

Obvious reasons aside (an honest conversation that advances the ball), it is for this one primarily that I seek Interesting People, as previously defined. I can fucking relax around them.

Maybe it’s a matter of trusting myself. Maybe I just need to get back on Ritalin (or some such concoction.)

It’s as though I’m exerting 100% effort (I’m not) and 20% of it is going in the right direction. I’m still shy by a factor of 4.

All in all I’m really quite tired of it. But I’m not sure what to do from here but what I’ve been doing.

So on it goes.

Index: Interesting People

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about Interesting People. What makes someone interesting, where you actually FIND interesting people and such. It started off as a mere expression of frustration. But in the couple weeks since my brain has been chugging on it quite seriously. So I figured I’d start gathering the posts on the subject into yet another index:

Interesting People 1: Where are the Interesting People

Interesting People 2: WHO are the Interesting People

Interesting People 3: WHY Interesting People (or 10/6)

That’s it for now. But I can feel some stuff brewing around in my head about it, so I’ll be adding to it before too much longer.

Gratitude and Next Steps

Things are becoming more clear. Now that I’ve been focused on things a little I can feel the results of my subconscious working away at the problems I presented to it. It’s an interesting phenomenon but I’m not sure how I’d get to the bottom of it, assuming that’s even reasonable. To set yourself to working on a problem while you’re not thinking about it sounds like it would be the key to the universe if you could do it reliably.

Let’s take the last 24 hours as a pretty reasonable example:

So I was inspired to come in yesterday and do some writing and it went pretty well. Since I didn’t have bible study (it being a Wednesday) I ended up working here until about 4:30 before heading over to Johnathan’s.

I made a ‘joke’ on twitter about ‘having my table ready’ and when I got there, there a few of the girls were sitting there with my seat open.

Kyle came out a few minutes later and said “Yo I saw your tweet and was actually about to respond but then you showed up in the parking lot.” #FeelsGoodMan.

I ended up hanging out the rest of the night (call it 5-11.) It was an absolutely great night. I met a bunch of cool people and we all had a lot of laughs and some conversation in depth, which never breaks my heart to be sure.

I wonder every once in a while if I don’t just get into these little states of nerdly reverie because that kind of social interaction is really pretty new to me, all things considered. Someone always seems to mention the way I just seem to draw in a crowd and always have a group of people that I likely didn’t know twenty minutes earlier at my table.

But last night there were a couple moments, that didn’t come from me, where someone said “We need to do this, like every month. Just all meet here. I haven’t had this much fun in a while. You. What’s your number? Seriously. You’re awesome.” I swear I about fucking cried. A bunch of conversation about schedules ensued. Who was around when. What days were good for everyone, etc.

Now, will I ever hear from them again? Who’s to fucking say. It matters almost not at all. We were all in this great space. A couple I know drifted in and joined the other six or so of us (though that went from four to eight and back a couple times) and it was just fucking solid. People poked fun at each other, laughed like hell. It was just great.

I don’t know what else really to say about it all. I was a little in my cups, but not as badly as it might have seemed.

It’s just humbling, every time, when people come hang out. Well okay, not EVERY time. There are a couple people I wish would stay the hell away. But there are so few of those people that they’re almost not worth mentioning.

It’s time to find more Interesting People, and they’re fucking everywhere. The PROBLEM is that I’m not.

So it’s time to do a couple things:

  • Pick up some kind of “side-hustle” so I can make some extra cash on the side to fund…

I actually had an idea about that while working on some software today: I’m tired of all these weirdly convoluted framework-based programming classes/courses. A buddy of mine is going through hell in a Programming Boot Camp and it’s driving me fucking bananas by proxy. I half-jokingly (again with that) said “I’m just going to create a series of courses or videos and call them ‘you don’t need all that fucking garbage’.” And…it struck me that it’s a really great idea. There’s no reason at all I couldn’t do that and, moreover there’s no reason I SHOULDN’T do that. Yeah yeah programming courses and youtube videos are a dime a dozen. But hell, they’re worth about that as well.

It’d be a great way to build a following, a project portfolio, and get myself out there a bit more. I miss solving people’s problems with technology so very much. My own projects are great. But it’s not the same as saving a company millions of dollars or a functionary dozens of hours a week by understanding their problems and solving them through some kind of automation.

Teaching other people to do so might be a really heady meta-project. Lord knows I’d learn a shit ton doing it.

It’s worth exploring.

  • Going out more. A lot more. I need to be out around people several nights a week and I can’t be super self-conscious about cash when I do. Not that I necessarily SHOULD be self-conscious about it. But I am and I need to solve that problem in the easiest way I know how: Make more money.

“In a perfect world” I’d have a tiny apartment in downtown Nashville, maybe a little studio I could retreat to for a few days a week so I could go out down there and not worry about getting back and forth. Maybe that’s excessive. But it sure hits my head right. A little studio or something with a bed, a desk, a fridge, and not a whole hell of a lot else. I’d probably be able to get a bunch of work done too.

It feels like I’m coming to all of this about 20 years later than I should have. But that’s no one’s fault but mine.

The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.

The second best time is today.

A Matter Of Clarity

I’ve taken another hack at the Bullet Journaling thing for June. I always find it really tough to stick with that. The week notebook layouts are just not something I find very helpful. So this time what I did was not set up the whole month all at once, but one week at a time.

I gave myself a couple one-week goals. Little things. Last week was:

  • Finish setting up your match.com profile. That’s pretty self explanatory. Though it was a failure. I waited until Saturday to get it done and, when I tried to finish I found that they’d for some reason locked my account. Add to that the fact that their customer service department has normal Monday to Friday business hours and, well, it was a wash. I’d originally said “Did what I could, but the task couldn’t be completed.” But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is: I dragged ass all week and couldn’t complete the task because of my delaying. So be it.
  • No dishes visible in the kitchen. I can’t…seem to get on top of dishes. I let them pile up and wash some when I need them. Well…that doesn’t really work. But I did get it done.

So what I did was just declare that by the end of last week they all need to be washed and put away such that, as I said, none are visible.

It only took a few hours really, between washing, drying and putting them all away. (I have a LOT of dishes and many of them needed literal industrial degreaser to get them clean enough to actually put away.

When I was done and I looked around my kitchen (still more or less a disaster) I was just struck with this wave of relief and I realized a couple things:

  • My day to day goals are generally pretty damned nebulous: “Code for a few hours.” or “do some laundry/dishes” or “spend some productive time in the shop” or “a half hour cleaning the office” etc.

I’ll get them done and nod to myself that the tasks had been completed. But without real concrete object achievement goals other than “spend time wisely” there’s just not really much to hang on to or take away from the effort. So they’re satisfying in a sense. But I just didn’t really get that concrete sense of accomplishment and after some time of this I’d forgotten how much different it is, which is bad.

  • Clean surfaces are more than just empty spaces.

I had a girlfriend a long time ago, and absolutely gorgeous Polish girl, about 6’1″. Just breathtaking. Her smile would absolutely destroy me. Unfortunately it was a relationship with an end date as she was only in New York for about six months. So after a very short time I suggested that she move in and it was just great. Sure we had our troubles but whatever.

Anyway she’d complain (quite lightly really) “Surfaces dahling, where are my surfaces” as we were both pretty inclined to let things clutter.

I only mention her because she comes to mind every time I clean anything, for which I’m quite thankful as her memory puts a smile on my face quite consistently.

For years after she left I’d find little post-it notes hidden deep in programming books saying things like “Wow you really DO read them <3.” Come on. How fucking adorable is that?

But cleaning a kitchen counter or desk top has a weird side-effect that’s really the primary effect. It absolutely clears my mind. It becomes obvious after it’s done that an external mess has a symbiotic relationship with my mental state. The more cluttered my surfaces are (dahling) the more…infringed upon I feel.

It’s “literally as though” (a nearly contradictory phrase) the mess is creeping around my awareness, boxing me in more and more tightly. Problem is I rarely notice it, as I said, unless it’s clean.

So this week it’s clothes. My dirty clothes are pretty well relegated to the bedroom and bathroom. But I’m wondering how badly that’s actually affecting my head day to day.

In fact, the more I think about it the more sure I am about it.

One of the aspects of that I’ve always been VERY conscious of is that when I have clean kitchen counters I feel a near slavish compulsion to bake a couple loaves of bread. The clean work surface is just too tempting, demanding an act of creation of some kind. It’s the strangest damned thing. But I’ve been more or less conscious of it since I lived back in that apartment.

It’s as though potential is limited because my mind is as cluttered with crap as my environment, and as soon as I start seeing some latitude my brain opens up a bit.

So…let’s take that and run with it a bit, see where it goes.

It dovetails with (or, well…maybe it’s not even a different thought) a curious little thought that popped up in my head a few days ago: How much can I get rid of in my mind that seems like it has utility but is actually standing in the way of…well…it gets weird here…my own potential down (or up) to even a spiritual level?

Certainly physical mess is psychological mess. But does that miss the point? Is this a visceral intimation of the Buddhist doctrine of attachment? Eh. That’s a bit too abstract a leap. While I suspect it’s precisely accurate, it’s tough to ground that.

IF it’s true that a clean environment represents a clean mind then I am bound to wonder if the boundary of the definition of ‘clean’ isn’t larger than what we think of traditionally as ‘clean.’

I’ve found that ridding myself of people who are loose acquaintances has a similar effect: Dispensing largely with people who aren’t actually ‘friends’ makes those friends that remain absolutely more valuable. Now I’m not NEARLY ruthless enough in that category as I should be, being as I am quite prone to please.

Now I’ve bounced against this idea a few times when it comes to the number of hobbies I’ve got kicking around. After a few aborted attempts at ridding myself of most of them I’ve just ended up gravitating back to just about all of them. I’m still not sure what to do about that.

The trouble I have with focus on a couple projects is pretty frustrating as it goes hand in hand with my moment-to-moment focus. So whether the macro issue is a manifestation of the micro issue or the reverse, I’ve as yet no idea. More frustrating even is that I’m not sure how to figure it out.

I get nine kinds of excited when I have a several-day span that I can dedicate to “getting something significant” accomplished. But in practice I can usually only be on a specific project for a couple/few hours at a time before I feel like a fucking caged animal and need to change context. Unfortunately that frequently ends up meaning going to the kitchen and eating something (I’ve backslid about 5 pounds off my low weight, which is one reason I’m here at the cigar lounge to begin with.) But more frequently it means I’m letting distractions take a hold of me, which can just soak up any amount of time at all.

A the micro-level I recognize most of the time this feels like procrastination, which has more to do with a lack of clarity than anything.

And procrastination/lack of clarity is directly tied in to the kind of mental hygiene I was talking about above. Now…I didn’t think it was THAT bad. But when I start drawing lines between these ideas like this I’m drawn inexorably to the idea that it may simply be so.

Frankly an insight doesn’t have to be a giant epiphany to be useful.

It’s all well and good to be metacognitive and clever; to congratulate yourself smugly for your own insights. Unless you put those insights into practice they aren’t worth shit.

There’s more to this. But I’m going to take the Struthless 70% route and post this as is.

As such, the takeaway is simple: When you’re flummoxed by confusion, clean something and see what happens.

WHO Are The Interesting People?

[Post 2 in the Interesting People series]

I’ve put down a thousand words over the last couple hours, trying to attack a tangentially related issue. Then, as I was in a twitter DM conversation I tripped over the trailhead to the post I “actually” had kicking around in my head.

What makes an interesting person, as in reference to my previous post.

Now at first blush “An Interesting Person” is someone who’s brain or life operates a bit differently, who stands out from the crowd because of some Interesting Aspect of their lives.

But…that’s…not the case.

The truth is much more mundane:

An Interesting Person is someone who:

  • Lives authentically: Their existence isn’t primarily predicated on impressing people.
  • Has some conversational vulnerability: They can be wrong without their ego getting twisted around a post.
  • Has some curiosity: This might be the prior point stated differently.
  • Isn’t constantly second-guessing your motives: There’s a degree of trust which comes from security or comfort, either with their conversational participant or frankly, with themselves.
  • Isn’t trying to sell you: This almost doesn’t bear mentioning. But if you’re trying to bludgeon someone with your point of view…just shut the fuck up. That’s not an honest discussion, much less argument.

Okay, so An Interesting Person is someone who’s personal baggage has been either dispensed with (I’m not sure there IS anyone in this category) or well-handled in that it’s integrated into their personality to the point where, while they’re not necessarily forthcoming about it, they’re not embarrassed about it either.

An Interesting Person is someone you can have a fucking conversation with who’s ego doesn’t get in the damned way. They don’t need to get deep and they’re not trying constantly to prove how awesome they are. But if the conversation goes that way, so be it. They’re not trying to cover for their own insecurities. Which, again, isn’t to say they’re not THERE. Just that they’re not a cause of constant damage control. People seem to do that either by masking it with a bunch of posturing or, thinking they’re being ‘extra authentic’ broadcasting a withering amount of self-deprecation.

You can sit down with An Interesting Person (yes I’m determined to use capitals and make this a proper title) and talk about anything or nothing and there’s a nontrivial chance that you and or they will actually take the conversation in an unexpected direction, to the edification of both participants.

The thing of it is, at their core, everyone is An Interesting Person. It’s just that most people have too much shit in the way to actually relax and BE Interesting. That’s what makes it all so damned frustrating. Not that people aren’t interesting, but that they, on the whole, won’t fucking relax enough and BE interesting.

And sure, bonus points if someone actually has interesting things going on. But “doing interesting things” is almost orthogonal. After all programmers, categorically speaking, do interesting things but are almost wholly uninteresting. They’re brainy, sure. But they’re simply not confident or vulnerable enough to engage in an open conversation. “Now come on man, that’s not fair.” Yeah it fucking is. I’ve known hundreds and hundreds of those fuckers and they’re, for all their cleverness, dull as shit.

So what do I want out of An Interesting Person?

Well, that’s a little selfish. I’m looking for conversational stimulation. I’m looking for excuses to think things I’ve never thought before or think things I have thought before in a new light (which can arguably be more interesting.)

I find it fascinating how, in the course of a normal conversation about nigh on nothing I can be struck with something that seems new, something I never would have come up with on my own. Perhaps I’m addicted to conversational novelty as a source of cheap dopamine hits. Hell, I don’t know. Worst case scenario that’s a pretty good way to get them.

For years I tried getting in to things like Writing Prompts. But I always find them so hopelessly stale and contrived. If the same questions or ideas come up in normal discussion then the normal conversational flow is stimulating.

Monday night, for instance, I got involved in three conversations of substance. Related poignantly out of order:

The second was with someone who presumed a seat at my table (a different discussion.) We started talking about interesting technical topics, peculiarities of certain types of cnc machining and such. I asked a bunch of questions, finding it fascinating, offered what I had on the topic (which wasn’t all that much, admittedly.) But within ten minutes it degenerated to “well I’M their BEST at this and such and so” and I tuned the hell out after an aborted attempt to get the conversation back on track.

The third one seemed more mundane of a topic, whether drug use induces creativity or just helps deal with the psychological obstacles to creative accessibility. I’ve spent days thinking about that conversation. The barriers to art and such. I’ve got little notes scribbled on post-it notes all over the inside of my skull about that. I’ll no doubt not be able to stop myself from writing about that for much longer. But I want to organize my thought about it all first. (wait what? What’s the occasion? yeah yeah.)

The first was about the effects of hallucinogens on the workings of the brain. Aside from personal experience I had very little to add to that one aside from some questions. We segued back and forth around the topic a bunch.

The outstanding question then is…am I An Interesting Person. I like to think so. I certainly aspire to be. I want to contribute to the conversation at least what I get out of it. I suppose it varies from one day to the next.

But at the risk of ending on a more cynical note than I’d like: Just because you may find me An Interesting Person doesn’t mean I find you one.


[Post 1 in the Interesting People series]

I’ve false started this about a half dozen times over the last month or so.

I’m becoming more and more intolerant lately of vapid conversation. I don’t mean small talk. Small talk has its place. It’s a social carrier wave we use to communicate non-verbally across, to just “be social.”

No I’m talking about conversations that are ostensibly interesting but just end up being back and forth declarations of obviousness with a declarative rather than an exploratory spirit. They’re assertions rather than conversations usually consisting of someone ranting and people nodding or declaraing their assent. Sometimes they’ve got a bit more to them. But it usually falls in the same category more or less.

I’ve avoided sportsball talk almost entirely, which is good. The guys I know generally know I have no interest at all in fandom or stat obsession.

The next tier down though is “Did you see?/You’ve gotta watch” madness, which is almost as bad. I just can’t spend my time watching season upon season of Random Show just to be able to have something to talk about that’ll consist of little more than “wasn’t it cool when soandso…?”

Politics is no good generally because people just seem to want to bitch about it. At best it’s a “didjahear?” if you’re on the same page. If you’re not then just forget it, fingers stabbing and raised voices.

I get why people do it. But it just seems like there are few people who are interested in exploring real issues of any kind.

There are a few people who’ve stood out in as many years. People who have something interesting going on that they’re excited in sharing or diving deep into.

I FIND it, and this will “cause some discomfort”, to be correlated with socioeconomic strata. When I lived in downtown Nashville I could head into Blend and, depending on what trade conferences were going on, get in to some of the most wild conversations. And even on slow nights the bartenders (for the most part), regulars and I would predictably get in to something. Material sciences involved in working with steel or wood or philosophical questions that someone would lob. Discussions about human nature, the mechanics of music production, leather working, brewing, mycology for fuck’s sake. Whatever.

Hell one time I sat next to a guy who’s hobby was rocketry. I figured he meant those little estes rocket kits you can get at hobby lobby and such. But no, he and his buddies built large scale solid-fuel rockets that were fucking space worthy. They had machinists, propellant guys, physicists and electronics guys building the sensor packages from scratch. They had a launch event every year someplace in the high desert in the Southwest where they’d put it all together and send them up. I was just awestruck. We talked for hours and I never saw him again. Well fair enough. He was only in town for whatever.

Online conversations with people on reddit or twitter or various chat rooms just doesn’t quite cut it. There’s just not enough actual nonverbal communication to be able to get more than words across. Even when it’s “in depth” it’s an exceedingly shallow affair.

Hell maybe the new generation of live video conversation is the closest modern equivalent.

Like I said there have been a few people who I’ve actually been able to sit down and “get in to it” with. But as thirsty as we all were for those conversations, those people have for the most part gone their separate ways.

I’ve been wondering if it’s not just a product of the location I’ve settled down, an admittedly blue-collar area of the country. But I’m not at all sure it’s not so much that the density of interesting people is greater in major metropolitan areas as it is the simple numbers game.

Even creative people seem to be in relatively short supply. OR, which I suppose might be the case, they’re around but holding their cards close to their chest since the unwashed masses just don’t give a crap about creative endeavors. Tough to tell.

The other option that comes to mind is that I’m just arms-length from these people. But that doesn’t scan because I’ve had enough experiences to disprove that. The aforementioned random bar encounters with Interesting People.

But I’m absolutely fucking starving for it.

And it’s something I have to do something about, but really have no idea how to attack.

Increase the size of my social pool? I definitely need to do that. Just force myself into ever widening circles until I find exceptional people in other groups.

Roll the dice more and be MORE outgoing about Interesting Topics? I have a real hard time thinking I can amp up on that without being completely fucking obnoxious.

Am I one of the small people in other people’s perceptions? Seems inconceivable. But so much that does is not.

It’s something as I said that I’ve been dwelling on for some time without any particular conclusions as yet.

We’ll have to see what I come up with.

The Mead Bug

My post-post refractory period led me all over the place which, as usual means twitter and reddit.

This post gave me some ideas:

I don’t know why the hell I never thought of doing this before.

One of the reasons I don’t screw around much with mead anymore is because I just couldn’t be bothered with feeding schedules, keeping an eye on specific gravity and such. It’s all a pain in the ass…BECAUSE the amount of overhead on each batch that may end up crappy is just too high. Yeah I can play the 70% game of just throwing some crap in a jar, letting it ferment and clear, then seeing if it’s any good. But that just tends to produce “huh. Neat. This isn’t awful” mead.

Now one of the other things I’m known to do that’s pretty damned lazy with melomels (mead with fruit) is to put the fruit in primary fermentation (the first fermentation.)

But something happens with fruit when it’s a part of the original fermentation. The digestion of the sugars in fruit does NOT produce the fruit flavor you’d expect. I find this most notable with something like a strawberry mead. Now, Strawberry Mead sounds amazing. Just…amazing. As do any of the berry meads. But putting those fruits in the primary fermentation ends up with something tasting…suggestive of the fruit in question. But the flavor is really not strong enough to make it worth it. This is ESPECIALLY true with strawberry as they don’t really have much in the way of flavor density. So you end up having to have a tremendous amount of strawberries blended and cooked down into a near syrup just to get enough flavor to tell what the hell is going on.

BUT if I put them in the secondary fermentation I’d be much better off.

Now…take that bit of information then look at the picture on the reddit post.

There’s no reason not to put a plain mead (honey + water) in a primary fermentation then split it into smaller secondary batches with differing flavor additives.

That way it would actually be worth doing all the work on the front end to get the ending alcohol and sweetness level just right, since that work multiplies to 5 or 6 smaller batches of interesting meads (probably a control + 4 more.)

Now that amount of work I could see being well worth the effort. Previously I would have made at least a gallon of each permutation I wanted to try and frankly I just can’t face that.

This way if I come up with something I really love I can then dedicate another full gallon to the task at will.

So I’m gonna do some poking around and order a bunch of wine yeast and put a gallon or two down and try to pay attention to the finer details, like the aforementioned feeding schedule and such.

Mead takes a LONG time, especially compared with every other fermentation I’ve ever looked in to. So it should be fun.

Of course what I’ll end up doing is starting 2 batches of 1 gallon each, then after a couple months getting impatient and starting a 5g primary.

Feels good to have the bug again though. Especially now that I’ve got a house and can set up a full mead station in the basement where things can just ferment along happily in large racks.

I’ll keep you updated.

You’re Better Than That

So I asked out this girl of whom I’m somewhat fond out the other night.

Good story made short for public consumption I saw her a few minutes later and she said yes then it all just kinda fell off.

I am…SHOCKED (no no, stay with me) at my reaction to this.

shrug Okay.

I don’t have 20s or 30s Mikey “oneitis” or any such horseshit like that.

I’m not in “yeah I’m better off alone” mode.

There’s no self-pity or other such crap. It’s just a thing that happened (or, well…didn’t.)

Part of me wishes it had gone another way. Part of me doesn’t. But I’m just not that in to wishing reality was different to assuage my own ego at the expense of the good sense the universe tends to have when acting on my behalf.

If you’d asked me how I’d react a week ago to an event like that, the full honest response (which…you quite likely wouldn’t have gotten because it would have been just too embarrassing to face) would have been a bunch of depressed whining.

But it just doesn’t matter all that much. I didn’t have so much energy front-loaded on the potential as I expected I did and THAT is absolutely shocking to me.

It got me to wonder a bit: How much about the internal mechanations of my personal psychology to I take for granted as working the way they used to only because they haven’t been recently tested?

How much of that goofy ass fear and anxiety has been digested as I’ve evolved over the past decade or two?

How poorly DO I know myself after all?

I’m actually a little pissed off about THAT aspect of it really. Because I’ve acted (or not acted in this case) in anticipation of those well-worn tracks in my head and just straight up not wanting to deal with them.

Tough to know where to take this. Because I don’t know how I could have caught myself to see if that particular aspect of my personality had evolved past my expectation as a side effect of me pushing forward the way I have.

I don’t really have any basis for answering that question at all. Let’s see if I can work it out…

How do you force yourself to reexamine and aspects of your identity that you absolutely take for granted?

An endless survey of the guts of your head just seems like a life of circle-jerking navel-gazing crap (he says on a blog full of such relentless self-absorption.) And there’s really no reason to have any expectation that you’d trip over the right things as being worthy of notice and consideration at all. I mean, can YOU literally iterate all of those different little (and not so little) sub-personalities and circuits? I sure as hell can’t.

I suppose, and this is by definition so far beyond my expertise that it’s just spitballing by definition, it’s really a matter of not acting in accordance with your notions of yourself. But what the fuck does that even MEAN?

To even have the thought “ugh. I just don’t want to deal with my own anxiety about all of that” presupposes that such thoughts are a part of my motivation, which is really the upstream problem entirely.

Who cares “who you are?” When you know what it is you want to do, dealing with your own mental and emotional fallout should just be a downstream effect of those actions, not something to be feared in its own right. It shouldn’t be something that can stop you from acting. Now, that is absolutely NOT to suggest there’s more virtue in taking your hands off the wheel and flying by the seat of your pants. That brings you back to the beginning, where you don’t examine your motivations at all. No. Bad. Already covered. That way be dragons.

It’s the neurotic’s lot to be afraid of themselves and to project that fear onto the outside world. That’s why anxiety isn’t really a reaction to external events, but a predilection of the spirit, for lack of a better phrase.

There’s really nowhere to go with it. This is one of those things that’s up there with the cosmic “I wish I’d said THAT” moments. The best you can do is try to train yourself to be in the moment and catch yourself when you’re about to do or not do something, and over time hopefully get better enough at it that you can finally do it IN the moment instead of soon after the moment.

Perhaps there’s some kind of intentional journaling practice that will help me focus my mind to the task.

I’m quite impatient for understanding on the topic, especially since it blindsided me quite so badly. But in this case, as in so many others, there’s no understanding that’s going to come from anything but practice and just…failure upon failure. But that’s okay. I can handle that.

Apparently far better than I thought.

The Maze of Subjectivity

This is probably 1 of 234,227:

I tweeted something this morning in response to one of Adam Lane Smith’s tweets in his absolutely epic “1 rt = 1 uncomfortable psychological truth” thread.

The tweet itself was one about understanding depression. The substance isn’t particularly relevant here, but here’s the tweet for reference:

My response was as follows:

As true as that is, it's "advice from the outside."  

Someone in the throes of depression has no idea what that means.  They can't abstract their mind from the moment well enough to actually get a handle on the needed perspective.

Nothing earth shattering of course. But it brought to mind something that I’ve been thinking about for quite a while.

I’m really quite shocked at the general blindness people have to the walls around their own and other people’s headspace or mental contexts.

The reducto ad absurdam of it is telling someone who’s an addict to “just stop.”

People know, generally, that saying that is a cultural taboo. But I suspect that taboo has just sublimated the problem. And it may very well be the case that “thinking beyond your context” is something that people are generally not willing or able to do.

It’s a self-referential problem for me as my reaction is “just stop not doing that.” The difference I think is that I’m aware that I’m not in a box of self-denial to the notion that I probably don’t understand what’s going on. Fair enough. But that’s a bit too meta for me to talk about without spinning my head in tight little circles.

Now this might get a little weird and a lot of it is conjecture:

Through my adult life I’ve always had a sense of where people were coming from when they’d say something in conversation. This led to a few decades of sitting in meetings and at bars saying “Wait…that’s not what he meant” and “She heard that as this, but what you meant was that, right?” then having to explain myself, usually to the nods and sometimes even gratitude of the participants.

A sense of our own subjectivity is something that’s rarely open to us. But we ARE capable of seeing it ALmost first-hand. Though somewhat ironically, we’re not really able of doing anything about it other than “being mindful.” You can’t actually free yourself from subjectivity in its entirety. But any particular subjective bias you may be able to wrangle. The thing is, it’s perhaps literally bottomless.

Here are some of the things that will absolutely change the way you think almost immediately:

  • Eat when very hungry (not “because I feel like it”)
  • Exercise: Seriously, do 5 push-ups, even if you have to “cheat” and do them from your knees. Or walk around the block. Whatever. It has to just be enough to be “not nothing.”
  • Change your location/context: Go for a walk, a drive, outside, something.
  • Anything else that’s outside your current experience. Don’t draw? Draw. That kind of thing.

It sounds trite but it’s absolutely so. IF you’re paying attention you’ll see your whole mental state shift. The way you think will absolutely shift a little bit if you do any of those things, assuming it’s been several hours to a day since the last time you’ve done it.

That helps us see the differences in the little sub-personalities we’ve got in our heads, all striving and fighting for dominance, seeking to be satisfied.

A deep understanding of what they are and how they work is absolutely critical to any kind of self-mastery at all. Otherwise you’re just a slave to your lower aspects. For instance I still have an awful problem with social fear of external judgement, etc. The more someone’s opinion of me matters the more tongue tied I’ll be. So I’ve taken on a rough program of noticing that and going out of my way to do something about it.

The result of engaging in behavior that violates your comfort zones or reality tunnels (a really useful term coined by Timothy Leary, of all people) is that you HAVE to manage the cognitive dissonance of your subjective view of the world not jiving with your FIRST HAND experimental evidence. You’re left with the understanding that your understanding is limited and can be tweaked and possibly, though far from assuredly, altered by changing how you look at the world.

I personally find this so ubiquitous an experience that I (somewhat entertainingly) find it completely unfathomable that people don’t think about what they think in this way. But I suppose it’s simply so.

Now, take all that and put it in a box, more or less as follows: Our perceptions, reactions, thoughts, and opinions of ourself, the world around us, and how to interact with it all is subject at any given moment in time on our internal mental and emotional states. So our ability to assess what is “true” is vague and subjective at best, and more likely a self-fulfilling presumption.

HOW poorly then are we able to understand what’s going on in the mind of someone else at any given time?

In some ways and at some times we have the advantage of distance in dealing with other people: Imagine the friend who you’re watching engage in self-destructive behavior. They may or may not even be aware of what’s going on. But you can see it plain as day.

But that’s not to say we can see and understand what’s going on underneath. Behavior is an effect, sometimes an effect many times removed from the cause, which is occulted from understanding by layers of prejudiced interpretation in ourselves and the other person.

As an example I’ll take a conversation we had one night at (well, after) Bible Study group about a month ago. It was on suicide. Sure, it started off with the theological implications of suicide, which, unless you’re Catholic, is a pretty short conversation. But it quickly got to the two stock phrases people deploy:

  • Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
  • Suicide is the most selfish thing you can do.

Now…those depths of depression are something I know something about. There are a lot of reasons people end up in those places, but one of the things that typifies that state is as far from “pride” as you can possibly get. Now, I’m not going to get in to it here, that’s not my point.

My point is that you have to be careful (well, you don’t HAVE to be, but I’m tired of language-lawyering with myself) when you’re inclined to give advice, even if it comes from the best of motives. People aren’t going to hear what it is you think they’re going to hear when you address something deep inside their own souls. They’re going to filter it in an entirely different way. They’re going to wonder what your motivation is, first of all. Then what you’re saying (and, at least as important, how you’re saying it) is going to be filtered down to their consciousness through the dark filter of their mood. It’s going to sound like a whisper in a hurricane and immediately assailed with the self-reinforcing assumptions, logical or not, of their mental state.

Knowing that, if you’re able, you’re honor bound to try and navigate that. But it’s like shooting a laser into a black box full of prisms you can’t see, hoping you hit them all in exactly the right place for it to shoot out the other side. You don’t really have any hope of succeeding. So the best you can do is “as little damage as possible.”

So be mindful, when you seek to help. Ask yourself if you’re trying to serve the other person or serve your own ego, the discomfort at another’s discomfort or what have you.

The life you save….well, you know.

Burning out the cruft

“They don’t think the game be like it is, but it do.” – Oscar Gamble

This is my fifth attempt today at starting to actually write something. I had some good back and forth on a reddit thread this morning and afternoon, and I even tried to compile all of that into a single post. But it was all a bunch of Q and A, so I got sick of looking at that and trying to thread it all together into a cohesive piece. Besides, it was about corporate developer culture, which I really just don’t have much interest in, certainly not lately.

Here’s the post if you’re interested in playing along from home. If you can’t figure out which responses are mine then, well, I can’t help you. (Well I could, but you ought to be able to figure it out, so I won’t.)

It’s the cost of having fallen off the writing wagon over the last week and a half. No no, I’m not blaming my lack of writing on the smoking lounge, only on my weird binding of the writing process to sitting in this chair smoking cigars and sipping slowly on a diet soda.

That’s really not good enough unless I’m going to do it a few solid times a week. Frankly that’s just not enough to do more than keep my head above water when it comes to writing.

The speed at which crufty bullshit starts accumulating on my brain is really quite alarming. It’s almost impossible for me not to think of it in terms of analogies which may not be analogies.

In order to keep mentally fit and organized I’ve got to at least do “morning stretches.”

Someone in some book on writing I read decades ago suggested a practice of writing “morning pages.” The idea was to get up in the morning, grab a pen and just blast out three full pages of whatever the fuck came out of your head.

I’d done it for a while back then. Hell, I still have the notebooks. But three pages is a damned endurance trial, especially longhand.

It’s time to take it more seriously again. I did something close to promise myself that I wasn’t going to get in to this kind of post again. But dammit I need to blow out the lines about it so you’re gonna have to suffer through it. I need to write it more than I need you to read it after all so, tough.

The last couple weeks have, all things considered, been really good. Last Thursday I wasn’t here because I went to a friend’s house for a “fish fry” where I absolutely jammed my face full of fried fish. Holy shit was it delicious. We all sat around for something on the order of five hours (not actually SO much time) bullshitting around a fire, smoking cigars and listening to music on the shore of what I think was a tributary of the Cumberland.

Unfortunately when I woke up on Thursday morning I was at my lowest weight ever, 196.8. When I woke up on Friday morning however, I was up at 202 something. So I’ve spent the last week fighting myself to get back down there. I’m just about successful (or will be as of tomorrow’s weigh-in I’m sure) having clocked in at 199 something this morning.

But I promised myself I’d see 18 by May 31. So I’ve got a rough week and a half in front of me.

Monday I mowed the lawn then was kinda surprised at 11:30 when I realizee that was my big goal for the day. It ended up being gorgeous out so I hit Johnathan’s for the afternoon, which was a great day in the sun with cigars and vodka sodas. Just…so many vodka sodas. I think by the end of the day I ended up drinking 10 of them, more than a couple were in the happy-hour window which made them doubles. But I met a couple interesting people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, a couple friends came by for one while they went back and forth having their days, and I got to clear up something that had been eating me alive for a while. BUT…I don’t like to brag about shit that shouldn’t be public consumption so I’m not going to talk about it here, unless I do. So call it 15 vodka sodas. Well it was spread out over about 9 hours so it wasn’t all THAT bad. But there was just no sleep to be had on Monday night. I think I ended up sleeping from about 5 am to 7:30 or so, when my alarm went off.

I came down here on Tuesday, per usual and lasted about two hours before I just had to go home and recoup. And to add insult to injury I had snacks at home, a rookie mistake I know. But I ended up just chowing the hell down. Having written nothing about basically anything I just kinda drooled at the computer most of the day. I did get down into the shop and built some shelving, cleaned some stuff up (which always takes far far less time and energy than I anticipate when I look at the mess.)

And yesterday I just coded a bunch of stuff. Just blasted away all day on some project work that really needed doing.

Concerning that: I’ve been working on an automated trading system that would run any number of trading bots for…hell, maybe 15 months seriously. It’s not like the coding would take THAT much time and energy if I’d really been on my game.

But one of the things that I love about writing software which may be true about any creative endeavor is that it forces me to have a clear head and to get out of my own way emotionally. This trading software is something I’m hanging an awful lot of energy on as far as goals, identity and such.

Now I can imagine a big “uh oh” reaction to that. But it does have some utility. When you bind that much your identity to a project like that it works both ways.

For instance: I kept getting what I might guess is about 93% of the way done with the framework. Then I’d stop and think “well, I really should be storing the data differently so I can get to it more easily” or “the gap fill code needs to be smart about the trading calendar so it knows what weekend boundaries are” (the stock market is closed on the weekends, so if you’re looking for consecutive dates you’re gonna have a problem.)

But it turns out all of that was really just my own terror at getting close to the finish line. Yeah, it took me a few months to actually see what was going on. But once I DID? (last Friday morning) I was able to work through and past it, which has the side-effect of having worked through that fear and those hangups that I had about the process. So like I said, the symbiotic relationship actually ended up serving me since one highlighted the other and I was able to get to it.

IF instead I’d somehow noticed “I’m afraid of having this because of reasons I can’t even really put words to” I’d have had a screaming nightmare of a time trying to work through what was going on and why. I’d have stopped myself and gone back to my childhood and asked how I got in to this position where I feared my own potential, how it represented potential for failure, etc.

Marianne Williamson, nutty as she is, has gotten a couple/few things dead on. One of which was her oft related quote, the first stanza to her poem “Our Deepest Fear”:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.”

That’s true as far as it goes. But she stops shy in her poem of illustrating why that’s so.

We fear our own power not for its own sake. We fear our custodianship of our own power, that we will use it in a way that’s worthy. All too tempting is the ability to acknowledge and embrace that power and yet fail with it, owing to a personal failing. After all the nature of THAT kind of failure is one we can’t blame on a lack of ability

It still doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. But for me, having a tool that I can use to develop trading bots easily and quickly, test and deploy them is a dangerous dangerous thing.

Let’s say I succeed (and I succeeded yesterday in putting this framework together to a point where I can start using it.)

I am now absolutely on the hook as I implied, for any success or failure in being able to build such a tool.

If I fail NOW (and I mean fail, not “try a bunch of things that don’t work”) then it can only be because I simply don’t have the acumen or discipline to succeed at what it is I’m attempting.

THAT would be a crushing, though far from fatal, blow to my ego. Yeah yeah I should be more mature than that. But I’m very very long past pretending I’m more mature or evolved than I am.

It’s one of the big reasons, I think (though am actually not sure) I write in such fits and starts to begin with. In this case it’s the Peter Pan syndrome: I’m endless potential. But until I actually carve away all but one or two of the paths of potential I can always pretend that I could do anything. Well sure. That’s about as safe as you can be.

It’s an illusion, a straight up lie, and it can no longer stand. People here at the cigar lounge call me a writer which frankly I find adorable. But I’m not going to bore them into narcolepsy by talking about my programming projects, so “writer” it is.

Writing though, despite the number of words I’ve blasted out on to the page over the last…shit, 40 years maybe, is something I don’t REALLY know my way that well around so I find it a lot harder to use as a tool to work through and past my own hang-ups the way I can with a software project.

I’m at the point where I think I wouldn’t be poorly served by taking what I, in the depths of my hat rack, call the “Throw Momma From The Train” approach.

That being: Just start where Owen Lift started: “The man in the hat killed the other man in the hat.” And just expand on it, a line at a time until I have something of a few hundred words and see where that takes me.

At least to put “something that is not nothing” into a state of nominal completion.

I’m not sure how I could do MUCH worse than that.

Dammit it’s something I just keep being pulled towards, hence my little previous post about Character Dossiers. Not knowing how to write fiction, not really, I end up either gravitating back to software projects, the well worn track of mastery I’ve achieved in the last 40 plus years.

Or, I end up writing posts like this, which might seem like “writing.”

But it’s really just thinking.

Character Dossiers?

Character Dossiers?

In an attempt to cut down on the number of wires I’ve got growing off me when I sit here at the cigar lounge I’ve bought a wireless keyboard and mouse. Now that SHOULD be an amazing boon. But it’s just awful. I’m not at all sure if it’s awful because the keyboard is shit (though it really doesn’t feel awful) or if the wireless connection is somehow spotty, like it’s using UDP or something.

So…”here’s a thing”

I’ve been thinking about writing and it finally occurred to me that a bunch of the ideas and techniques I use in software development might be well adapted to the process.

Most notably the idea of keeping a library of ideas, people, plot points, settings and such. After all, musicians have notebooks of lyrics, us programmers have fucking ENDLESS libraries of reusable snippets of code and architecture, up to the design-pattern level. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to geek out too much.)

I kinda tripped over the idea when I was thinking about (nerd alert) actually starting to write up personality profiles of people I encountered so that I had something to draw personality traits from when I needed a character. Well, why not? I can’t see a reason it wouldn’t work perfectly.

At this point I figure an actual author might read this and react with “Well DUH.” But hey, gimme my late blooming realizations 😉

At this point the only thing that remains is to pick some templates and start making sketches.

*spends a few minutes searching the internet*

Wow, okay. Yeah I’m really late to the party.

There is SO much out there for maintaining libraries of characters.


The trick now is going to be maintaining them all in one place such that I can go to it and add, tweak and otherwise just straight up screw with it all well enough.

I could use a OneNote notebook, since that’ll be accessible from all of my devices. But that lacks something. I’d LIKE to use one of my midori traveller notebooks. Actually…meh, fuck it. I’ll do that. Probably a hybrid of that and an electronic solution.

Hmm…I thought there’d be more to say about this, but there really isn’t.


I’m going to be screwing around with adding widgets from Goodreads.com. I was really hoping I could get the site to just cross-post to twitter things like annotations, quotes, and such. But that functionality isn’t available anymore so the closest thing I can think to do is to post little embedded widgets in the side-bar and such. But it’s tough to see how that’s all going to end up looking and working without screwing around with it a bunch. So you’ll see some weird now and again ’til I settle in on something I like.


Cain and Abel: Or, Meaning and Story, the beginning

If you listen to enough Jordan Peterson you’ll eventually come across some of his takes on stories from The Bible. He has a fascinating method of treating them without concern as to their religious…truth. It’s an amazingly fine line he not so much walks as dances down. In so doing he’s found a way of talking about the mythological structures that have evolved forward into the dominant religious and philosophical framework of our age.

Now, I’m singularly unqualified to talk about the content of such things. Aside from my Tuesday & Thursday Bible Study group (where we’ve been reading Matthew since I joined back in February) I’ve got what’s effectively zero exposure to The Bible.

When Peterson talks about Cain and Abel (or Noah, for that matter) he invokes an amazing array of deep references to the struggles between chaos and order. Things that, upon reflection, seem patently obvious.

I was struck, on my trip down the hill today, by the strange polarity, not between chaos and order (though that can absorb a lifetime of cogitation), but by the balance between how short those stories are, how much information is in them and how well they communicate depths of meaning far FAR beyond what’s actually on the page.

The story of Cain and Abel is a bit under 300 words. There’s almost nothing there.

It seems as there’s JUST enough as far as verbiage to get the story across. Cain bitches out. Abel is honored. Cain gets bitter and kills his brother, lies about it, then is cursed by God. It’s no more complicated than that in the literal telling.

But what I find frustrating is how much is there compared to how little I’d gotten from it without the benefit of further exposition.

On one hand I can listen to any of several people (I’m not just a Peterson fanboi here) talk about the story and how much is there ad-nauseum and my first thought is: Well why isn’t that all there? Why not put all the exposition in?

On the other hand: It’s obvious why not. To preserve the story and its lessons through time and translation it is absolutely critical that the absolute minimum number of words be used to represent it.

I’ve been reading, listening to, and watching lectures and books on Jung for decades. From Joseph Campbell to Jordan Peterson and Jung himself (where I can. Jung is a pretty damned tough read.) I have a basic understanding of how stories of what I’ll call “mythological significance” are fractal in that they continue to divulge lessons in a way that may literally be bottomless.

And you can read all day about The Heroes Journey and such, and see elements of those stories strewn throughout modern culture: Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Matrix, etc.

Now, the Jungians would say that I understand on a literal sub-conscious level what’s going on when I read a story like Cain and Abel and maybe fucking relax about it because I’m actually absorbing it when I read it. And maybe that’s true. But I have trouble consciously seeing it, for its own sake, even as an important story. Now, it’s got so much front-loaded cultural significance that it’s tough to describe what I mean without anticipating a knee-jerk “well of course. It’s the story of Cain & Abel” reaction.

There’s just so damned much that I don’t see and it drives me absolutely bananas. Especially when it takes so little prompting for me to snap the part of my brain that is engaged in such things on to a story, which will cause me to lay those templates over it and allow me to see it suddenly as if I have x-ray vision, applying things I’ve well learned to it where I’d otherwise just have no thought to do so.

It just doesn’t come up on its own.

A parallel that comes to mind is seeing the twist in stories and movies. Well hell, it might not even be a ‘parallel’ now that I’m thinking about it.

Let’s take a couple examples, well worn in my head:

Devil’s Advocate with Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino on one hand, and The Sixth Sense on the other.

When The Sixth Sense came out there was a huge cultural buzz about “the twist.” I was making cookies with my sisters in their Brooklyn Apartment when the commercial came on.

I looked at it for a second and said “So…he’s dead, right? That’s the thing? He’s dead?” My sister got pissed.

“What the hell’s wrong with you?”
“Yeah, that’s it. But it’s really good.”
“I mean, how is that not obvious? There’s ‘a bit twist’ and the kid keeps saying he sees dead people. Who doesn’t get that from the preview?”

I mentioned that scene to my Father who said “Mikey, of course. What else would it be?” In his inimitable tone. Well, okay, yeah. Duh.


Take Devil’s Advocate. I was enthralled by that movie. The whole thing. But…I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it coming at ALL. Not with the primary antagonist’s name being “John Milton” or, you know, the fucking title, the subway scene. None of it. Not until the ultimate on-screen reveal did I have any real idea what was going on. Not that Pacino was literally Satan, that Kevin Lomax was literally the son of the Devil. It all just hit me like a ton of bricks when they finally laid out exactly what the fuck was going on. Thinking about it now I seem to recall having a wide-eyed gasp moment as he walked out on to the completely bare streets of Manhattan on the way to that scene. But it wasn’t until the character realized it that I realized it. I was totally in the moment for the whole story.

On one hand I was kicking myself for not having seen it (priding myself overmuch as I am wont to do on my faculties in that regard.) But on the other I was just having too much damned fun to care.

To “remember yourself” as Ouspensky and Gurdgeiff admonish, is no small thing. And, quite like the Speed Reading issue (the runoff post I just put up when I sat down to write THIS one) it’s not worth being quite so…intentional all the time when reading or watching something. I don’t enjoy Devil’s Advocate any less on a rewatch with the understanding well in hand. (Well…maybe I do. It’s not like I can put myself back in the place of ignorance to remember viscerally how I felt about it at the time.)

If you read every line of poetry or story with the reckless deconstructionist perspective of the average high-school literature teacher, you’re going to blow by the whole thing in the search for meaning, never being able to get back to the initial beauty of the thing through the

Dammit. There’s something here. There’s a synergy between the appreciation of beauty and the conscious absorption of meaning. It’s just REALLY difficult not to miss one for the sake of the other at first blush.

It may very well be that I’m just encountering the limits of my ability, either as a function of background or (gasp) intellect.

I don’t know. This is another one of those little posts that leads to me having more questions for myself than answers for you. And, while I understand that can be pretty frustrating, I also find it more than a little exciting.

Speed Reading

I started listening to Jordan Peterson’s “Beyond Order” a couple days ago and it’s…well it’s a tough book to listen to as an audiobook, even about half an hour in.

One of the problems with dense audiobooks is that you can’t really pause to think. I mean, yeah of course you can. But unless your finger is just poised over the pause button it doesn’t really work. By the time I’m done thinking about a sentence, a paragraph has passed, and you can’t really (especially while driving, which is where most of my audiobook listening happens) rewind. So I end up listening to each 5 minute snippet 3 or 4 times if I’m paying attention.

But usually what happens is I get into a near meditative mental groove and just absorb what he’s saying as best I can. Sure, I’ll read it a couple/few times then listen to it again just to get my head wrapped around it.

The difference between reading/listening and writing is really strange. When you’re writing something, unless it’s straight-up stream of consciousness (which is something to evolve out of unless you’re just journaling) you structure things from a high level. EVEN if you don’t write it that way, editing requires that you go back and forth over the piece, zooming in and out to see the scaffolding either of the story or the points you’re trying to make.

Reading doesn’t tend to work that way and listening to the audio version of a piece of text definitely doesn’t. The normal method of consumption of these things happens in a one-dimensional time-linear fashion even though there is (or, ought to be) higher level structure.

So as a writer you have to craft your words such a reader is guided through said structure in a way that’s at least somewhat intuitive. And yes, this absolutely holds true for twist-a-plots, mysteries and reveals. Hell, especially so.

But as a reader, you aren’t really bound to consume the work that way.

This is one of the things about “Speed Reading” that falls through the cracks when even the semi-literate make the Woody Allen reference “It’s about russia” (concerning speed reading War & Peace.)

Speed reading is something you can decide to do and is a tremendously useful skill to have. You can get vast benefits from understanding the techniques, even if you’re not particularly good at it. It involves making multiple passes over a book, first as fast as you can turn the pages and just look at them to give you a high-level view of the structure, then again a little slower, and a little slower, until you’re actually blasting over words. Yeah it’s a bit more complicated than that. But hopefully you get the general point. A great book on the subject is “The Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program” by Stanley Frank.

A well written book has aspects and flow to it that you’ll miss if you just read it front to back. A REALLY well written book has aspects and flow to it that you may be able to catch if you read it normally, but might not.

By scanning a book this way before really diving in you get to see where the author is coming from, what they’re trying to do, and then you can see how every word you read fits in to what they’re trying to say, the conclusions they’re drawing and such.

It’s an underrated technique and, combined with a commonplace book can really blow the roof off your comprehension and understanding of everything you read.

I urge you to try it. That Evelyn Wood book on amazon has currently “258 used copies available starting at $0.80.” There’s really no excuse.

Reward Yourself!

Yesterday I hit it. 198. I haven’t been under 200 pounds since I was a teenager. I got close a couple years ago when I lost 17 pounds on a 7 day zero-calorie fast, down to 208. But even then I wasn’t confused about that being a real weight. I’m pretty sure I gained half of it back in the next two weeks, then the rest in the following one.

Back in September or so, when I decided that enough was enough, having gotten on the scale and weighed in at 242.2, I “knew” I was straight up fantasizing about getting down to 200 pounds.

As the scale groaned less and less with each passing week and having some TRULY shitty days/weeks/months (for instance, in April I actually gained a few pounds) I started thinking to myself, “Well, self? How are you going to mark the 200 pound threshold? What’s the reward?”

Oh, dear readers, my mind was alight with all the cool toys I was going to buy myself when I finally crossed into what they call on reddit “Onederland.”

Among the list of things my mind rotated around were the following:

  • A new bed.
  • A 2×72 belt grinder for knifemaking
  • A new desktop milling machine and basic tooling for machining.
  • A cabinet saw (a big boy tablesaw)
  • An oak roll-top writing desk and chair.

I never could quite settle. (I swear that’s gonna be written on my fucking gravestone. But more on that maybe never.)

So Tuesday I clocked in at 201.4 and realized that if I stuck to my guns I’d have no trouble crossing that final interim line (my actual goal weight is down at about 180 or so. I’m thinking “175 then I’ll see from there.”) Since it was a cigar lounge day I was able to keep myself on beam and away from the kitchen. Got up on Wednesday morning and sure as shit, 198.0.

I may have actually fist-pumped and said “FUCK yeah.” But then it was over. I went in and wrote it on the board in blue (the “new low weight” color), posted something on twitter about it, then admittedly pigged out a bit. I really don’t have any guilt about that. It was fun. I didn’t get crazy. But I was back up to 201 this morning. Fine. No biggie.

But I got to thinking last night that there are a couple/few reasons it’s important to reward yourself. Note: As usual when I try to artificially break things down like this, the borders are actually pretty fuzzy.

First: The straight up reward. You’ve got to make these deals with yourself to stay on track. Yeah yeah, maybe the result of accomplishing something should be its own reward. But I’m not that evolved a person. I still need prizes for shit.

Second: A thing to remind me, at times of darkness, what I’ve accomplished. This is the one that just occurred to me last night. I’m not always on top of my game. I’m in fact quite rarely on top of my game. I’m usually somewhere in the bell-curve middle. Having tangible reminders of thresholds crossed, goals accomplished, and difficulties overcome isn’t just important when we’re in the dumps. It can help keep us at the higher end of our game, so to speak.

Third: Fuck, I had a third one.

Fourth: Rewards as a contract with the future. Easy accomplishments are easy. (Woah there genius boy, slow down on the mind blowing wisdom.) But you (or, well, I anyway) need to be reminded that I keep the promises I make myself. It doesn’t just reassure me that things are possible, but that I can probably push the envelope. The more tactile, visual, concrete reminders I have of that, the harder it gets to deny that. Yeah this overlaps with #2 a bit.

As I said above, these all overlap a bit. The abstract notion is that you are not one identity, one person riding around in your skull operating your body. You contain multitudes and if you don’t give those sub-personalities their due, they won’t give you yours.

You have to be very intentional about the harmony of your mental and emotional guts. Otherwise they’ll just continue to fight each other for dominance, leaving you a chaotic mess of screaming demons in your head.

It’s too easy to fall in to the trap of thinking you can just force yourself into a good/productive mood through sheer force of will and it just isn’t so.

But I’m letting the reward for my accomplishment slide, and I know I shouldn’t be doing that.

Now, that I’m on the other side of the achievement I’m watching myself sell the accomplishment short. “Eh, it’s not really a big deal.” No man, it is. Forty Five pounds down because I woke up one day and decided to do it. It would have been an absolutely unthinkable idea if I’d suggested it even a month earlier.

It’d be so easy to let it pass; to sell myself short and not actually engage in some celebration.

So I think tomorrow I’m going to go down to the furniture store and have them make me the writing desk. (I can’t actually take one off the floor since the small ones are right-handed in a way that really matters and I’m, well…not. It’ll cost me…pretty dearly. But hell, a tool to help me create things that’ll be a constant reminder of something I’ve accomplished? That sure seems like the right way to go.