Death by metal box

(Postcript: Hey! Almost died yesterday. For the umpteenth time. This is not a joke. I didn’t realize I needed to write about it—until I started typing.)

Recently it’s become necessary for me to make many commuting trips approximately an hour-and-a-half each way. Something came up, just as COVID-19 started, which trumps the stay-at-home-order for me—at first, sporadically in February, March, April and now straight-up five-days-a-week in May, I’m in the car commuting. Never mind why, just roll with me here. I’m now on the road a lot, like a regular commuter. It started when there was no one on the roads, and now things are starting to pick up—just starting mind you, I cannot imagine what this is going to be like soon, as things get back to normal traffic levels.

If you… you specifically reading this right now… have been, (or are,) commuting to your job by car. YOU ARE INSANE. “But I need the job/money!” …when you’re dead? Cool story bro’.

I’m not being hyperbolic.

I’ve driven a shit-ton since I was 16. I had a long distance relationship for years, driving 2, 3, and even 5 hours one-way to say, “hello!” I drove a delivery truck for a few years back in high-school. I’m nuts; I even have routines I use, (at all times,) to avoid losing focus. I’ve been in two accidents, both not my fault—both situations with kamikaze drivers. One literally nearly killed me; I was traveling at 60mph in my first Jeep. On a deserted highway. At midnight. When I was CREAMED from behind by someone doing ~90. (Stop here and try to figure that out.) It spun the Jeep—howling tires and tire smoke and those racing-car hour-glass skid marks… and I hit the guard rail. Also, three separate times since February—HOLY FUCKING SHIT SRLSLY T H R E E people have tried to kill me on the road since February! 1) On a two-lane highway curving left, a manic in the left lane, heads for the right-hand exit ramp through me; I managed to navigate between him, and the guy already on the ramp saving us all. 2) A sleepy driver coming off third shift, in the left lane, on the highway, micro-sleeps and veers through my driver’s-blindspot clipping me off the road, into the median towards the on-merging ramp traffic just as that median space went to zero; again, I saved everyone. 3) An oncoming Amazon delivery truck, rounding a bend, turns left across my path, in the rain; my rainy driving skills save everyone for the win. I can go on if you’d like more examples of driving incidents in the past where my skill has explicitly saved me. Once on a metal-grate bridge in the poring rain, in lane width restricted construction, two lanes, slow flatbed tractor trailer in the left lane, me declining to pass on the right, pissed people behind me, down slight grade at end of bridge, road curves right, truck gently touches his brakes and the trailer slides into my lane… would’ve caught me against the right-hand barrier but instead I smugly read the license plate on the trailer; There have been countless times avoiding being hit from behind in sudden braking situations, people crossing center-lines, tail-gaters, people cutting me off. Being on a road is attempted-suicide.

Every single time I narrowly avoid death I think: That is how I am going to die. Right there, like that, in a car. Once, twice … 42, 43, … 206, 207, 208, … how many times can I get lucky? I’ve seen ground-up people in car crashes as I slow-maneuvered around the accident! That’s how I’ll die. Right there under that truck, in that ditch, wrapped around that tree avoiding that other car. I’m going to die a slow, painful death in an automobile. Is it worth it?

oh. I see this is a rant… ok I’m good with this being a rant.

If you are commuting, YOU ARE INSANE. Save your own life and STOP. Quit your job. You can’t spend the money when you are dead. The people you are “working for” prefer you alive.

I’m straight-up begging for a $1-per-gallon gasoline tax to be routed exclusively into a dedicated driving enforcement arm of the State Police—four person officer teams always working in two cars for the stop. (Each stop should take, mandatory, a minimum of half-an-hour on the roadside. So everyone knows it’s hurts even to get stopped.) Also, mandatory every-5-years driver privilege/license re-testing with an evaluator-in-the-car driving test. Also, I want mandatory escrow accounts to qualify for a license—NOT JUST INSURANCE! I want you to put up a $250,000 secured bond before you can get a license. You’re balking? Wait, what value have you placed on your life?

omg ima stop now

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Doing what you love

But the fact is, almost anyone would rather, at any given moment, float about in the Carribbean, or have sex, or eat some delicious food, than work on hard problems. The rule about doing what you love assumes a certain length of time. It doesn’t mean, do what will make you happiest this second, but what will make you happiest over some longer period, like a week or a month.

~ Paul Graham from, http://www.paulgraham.com/love.html

There have been just a few bits about this topic arranged on the Internet. I’ve written several times here myself, and linked to many things like this one from Graham. The ultimate point that I’d like to make is simply that the necessary part of solving the problem for yourself is to ask yourself such questions.

If you’re simply going through life reacting to whatever you find before you, then any arm-chair, ivory tower, philosophizing about the meaning of life, one’s purpose, or finding one’s Life’s Work, is completely pointless. I’m not criticizing going through life in reacting mode; if one is crushed by situation or station, then you necessarily have your work cut out for you.

But presuming you have some slack—and be honest, you are on the Internet, so you have enough slack…

Presuming you have some slack, what questions are you asking yourself?

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The best work

Somehow these less-than-ideal conditions raised his game, spurred him on to greatness. There’s a definite lesson here. Fair winds do not a great captain make. We dream of finding our own greatness one day, but we want it to happen when the sun is shining.

~ Hugh Macleod from, https://www.gapingvoid.com/blog/2020/05/11/fair-winds-do-not-a-great-capitan-make/

One—particularly one named “Craig”—can also veer too far in the other direction. Continuously choosing the most arduous path towards each goal is exhausting.

Random weather metaphor for life: (Weather geeks: This is written for the Northern Hemisphere.) Large storms rotate. They always rotate in the same direction. Have you seen a stop-motion video made from satellite photos of a hurricane? If you are standing on the shore, facing an oncoming storm, you can try to avoid it by fleeing to your left, or to your right. (Presuming you ignored the warning yesterday to simply go inland.) If the center is coming directly towards you, and you have a car and just a few minutes… which way do you flee? Left, or right? To the left, the motion of the entire storm, coming at you, adds to the winds of the rotating storm. To the right, the motion of the storm, subtracts from the winds of the rotating storm. A storm with 100mph winds, coming at you at 30mph… Flee left and you get 130mph winds. Flee right and you get 70mph winds.

Seems to me that’s a good metaphor for life. “Oh shit, here comes a storm.” Maybe I should consider which way to go, rather than just fleeing like a rabbit in whatever direction I happen to be facing.

Hey also, while I’m doing weather: The Saffir-Simpson Scale has only 5 categories for a reason. It’s designed to be easy to understand when you hear the number. I sometimes hear talk that we should add a Category 6. Nononono. Category 5 already means, literally, that you should evacuate because nothing survives the 250kmh/160mph sustained winds of a Category 5 storm. So, what would having a Category 6 add? “srsly bro’, flee!”

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Influence

Into the hands of every individual is given a marvelous power for good or evil—the silent, unconscious, unseen influence of his life. This is simply the constant radiation of what man really is, not what he pretends to be.

~ William George Jordan

Dive deep

The information universe tempts you with mildly pleasant but ultimately numbing diversions. The only way to stay fully alive is to dive down to your obsessions six fathoms deep. Down there it’s possible to make progress toward fulfilling your terrifying longing, which is the experience that produces the joy.

~ David Brooks from, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/03/opinion/brooks-the-art-of-focus.html

I’m not sure I’d call the longing I seek, “terrifying.” But “longing” certainly fits. This idea of finding something that pulls you so strongly as a way to brush away attempted distraction fits closely with the old platitude to, “have a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside you.”

I used to think of my attention as a flashlight; as a thing I needed to narrow by focusing—narrow to illuminate a smaller area with increased brightness. I’ve always found, though I spent years in denial—you know that river in Africa?—that the more I tried to force my attention onto things, the more I felt anxious and uncomfortable. Somewhere around episodes 8, 9 or 10 of John Vervaeke’s Awakening from the Meaning Crisis there’s a discussion of what exactly is your attention. Hint: It’s not like a flashlight that you can intentionally point, and then having pointed it your mind will focus on that target.

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Sharpening the mower

As I write, I’m listening to my neighbor who is gas-powered-rotary-mowing the rocks in his yard…

This is a frequent topic on my blog: I have an old-school style, reel mower. It’s a modern mower; light, and maintainable. It has no motor; you push it and the blades spin. (Thus it comes with an unlimited, free gym membership and exercise program.) It really matters that it be kept sharp and correctly adjusted. A reel mower is basically 6, precisely adjustd, helical scissors. If you hit even a single twig or piece of mulch, it matters.

Yesterday I spent an hour sharpening and adjusting the mower. This is also a manual process where I have to take apart the wheel-drive-setup, and put the mower body in a little stand, (which I built years ago.) Then, using a manual hand-crank arm, and lapping compound—think: grey peanut butter with stuff that cuts steel in it—I can adjust and sharpen the mower. Anyway. I spent an hour on it.

Then I went back out into the lawn like a hero… only to discover I had done it wrong and really messed it up. Now it cuts way worse— Actually, now it mostly doesn’t cut, is impossible to push, and I need to redo all my adjusting and sharpening.

So yesterday, precious little lawn go mowed. But holy shit did I get a workout!

Sometimes my posts are metaphors for life about “sharpening the saw.” Not today. No, yesterday I simply messed up the mower and busted my ass to no avail.

Nope. Definitely no life lesson here. Nothing to see here. Move along.

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The process of reflection

Much of the power of the Movers Mindset podcast’s signature question, “three words to describe your practice?” comes from thinking about one’s personal understanding of the word practice. In the podcast episodes, sometimes the guest’s discussion of that understanding is a profound part of their interview. Sometimes their surgical statement of three words is its sublime culmination.

In 2019, we posed the three-words question of the project itself. This turned out to be a surprisingly fruitful exercise. We came up with three words to describe our practice, and I subsequently adopted them as the three words to describe my practice:

Discovery. Reflection. Efficacy.

If those three words describe my practice—the journey of my whole life—then what is the purpose of this web site? Why go through all this work? It’s taken me 9 years and the previous 2,499 posts to understand:

It’s a vehicle for my process of reflection.

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Not spinning out of control

Because, like you, like seemingly everybody, I have also felt as though the world is spinning out of control and there’s nothing we can do about it. I’m exhausted from all the stories of shootings and attacks and bombs and the constant stream of awful stuff that is happening out there. I, too, feel desensitized and dejected from the seemingly constant carnage raging across the planet.

~ Mark Manson from, https://markmanson.net/crazy-world

There was a period of time when I felt that the world was spinning out of control. It is not.

Over a couple decades, as I spent less time on dysfunctional social networks, less time on instant gratification, less time on consuming mindless media, less time on bite-sized tripe posing as information, less time on pre-digested opinions… Well, over a couple decades I’ve come to realize that humanity is awesome. Sure, we progress in fits and starts, with setbacks small and large scattered about. But progress we do none the less!

If you see an issue that you think needs addressing, then please do set about affecting change. But do so sans hysteria, sans hyperbole, sans click-baity mindless louder-just-to-get-attention fluff.

The way you make the whole world better is to make one piece of it better; Then repeat.

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Fear is a friend

You must understand fear so you can manipulate it. Fear is like fire. You can make it work for you: It can warm you in winter, cook your food when you’re hungry, give you light when you’re in the dark, and produce energy. Let it go out of control and it can hurt you, even kill you… Fear is a friend of exceptional people.

~ Cus D’Amato

Focus on what you do best

My suggestion? Let more qualified people or tools tackle the “stuff” that forces you to slow down, lose productivity, and create something less than what your clients deserve. Sure, it’s scary to think about how much it will cost to outsource … anything else that isn’t in your wheelhouse. But think about how much momentum and overall quality of work you lose whenever you let that fear take over. I say: focus on what you do best, outsource the rest, and be happily surprised when you see how much your business soars as a result.

~ Suzanne Scacca from, https://alistapart.com/article/focus-on-what-you-do-best-and-outsource-the-rest/

This is just an awesome point. The article is set in the context of freelancers who build web sites. Strip off the context, and it’s still perfectly true.

But also, I’ve been searching for an excuse to link to A List Apart. It’s not at all obvious from their web site, but they’ve been doing what they do since 1998. It started as a mailing list that was being separated off from I-forget-what… it was to be a “a list apart.” Then they unassumingly began leading discussion and pioneering best-practices for 20+ years.

Also, they have a nice web site chock full of great reading and resources. If you think you have an interesting or challenging problem related to a web site—A List Apart probably covered that 10 years ago.

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