Hey, pay attention

I have a routine with my journaling. Over time, that routine has changed a lot and I’m sure it will evolve farther. Currently, I start a clean A5-sized face of a page for each day. I do not read the previous day’s entry; I’m never trying to continue where I left off in my thinking as I journal. No, the journal is simply a place for me to talk to my future self. Here’s why I did that thing I did. Here’s this really great idea… but I’m letting go of it, and writing it down hoping future-me gets a chuckle at the dumb idea I was wise to drop. Sometimes I record really big wins. Sometimes I record really big losses. A wedding! A birth! A death! But mostly, I’m just capturing how I feel, why I feel, what I think, why I think, … Sometimes I spend hours painstakingly handwriting long texts. Sometimes it’s just 60-seconds and a bulleted list. Vanishingly rare is a sketch. Occasionally a flourish of colored-penciling. There are often inset headings in block letters at the sides as signposts—first instance of this, last instance of that.

It helps me pay attention to my life.

~ Austin Kleon from, https://austinkleon.com/2018/02/20/what-is-the-point-of-keeping-a-diary/

Yes, there’s much paying of attention to my life that happens in the writing.

But the true wizardry is in the years-later rereading.



I don’t think ego is good or bad, it simply is. What matters (to me) is what I do, and what I do with my ego. Do I project my ego out onto the world (the way one can project a film onto a live scene in daylight: You can see the original people and things, but the film adds color and shape and, possibly, changes one’s perceptions) and examine and evaluate others colored by my own ego? …or do I try to go deeper and imagine what others might actually be experiencing, what their ego might be like?

Foremost, you must make a decision about your ego.

~ Paul Niquette from, http://www.niquette.com/books/softword/part8.htm

That insanely deep dive by Niquette is a refreshingly self-aware attempt at proving who should be given credit for inventing the word “software”. The part I’ve linked, isn’t even the last part. I found myself reading and knowing there was a time when I could easily have fed my ego in such a protracted journey— but I don’t think I would have been able (back at that time) to do the self-aware zoom-out that Niquette attempts. Possibly interesting to you; Definitely the sort of thing I find myself mulling over these days.


Your attention, please

I’ve a strong drive to seek attention. I’ve a desire to be seen as clever. Being clever isn’t the problem; The desire is the problem. Being clever is, sometimes, just the right ingredient to help someone solve a problem. But more often than not, being clever is not helpful.

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that my work is really about attentional design.

Becoming aware of attention. Shaping and directing it. Shifting its quality and inner experience. Leveraging it to produce work of real value.

~ Tiago Forte from, https://fortelabs.com/blog/the-topology-of-attention/

Magic happens when I’m able to cleave the attention-seeking from the useful clever. When I’m able to remove stressors (stressors which invariably are of my own creation) then I’m free to frolic and create. Exhaustion can be a limit. Day-dreaming can be a limit if in excess. But ruminating is a certain road to ruin, every time. I regularly need to aim my attention inward: What specifically am I ruminating about? …and how, surgically, can I cut that out?


Eyebrow raised. Chuckle stifled.

Once I learned how to be a good sport, I began to appreciate getting my delusions busted as the target of a well played, real life, condescending Wonka. I’m too often condescending, and being the recipient is potent medicine.

It is to my great pleasure that such a fine example of 18th-century punking is related to typography.

~ Martin McClellan from https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/caslon-baskerville-and-franklin-revolutionary-types

Typography is a field which I find intriguing. People spent tremendous time and effort understanding readability and utility of little bits of lead type, printing presses, and optimizing everything. I find it sublime that someone so into type (go read the essay) was so oblivious about something they held so dear. Yes, do tell me more about that typography minutiae.

At which point I began doing that sort of squinting, glancing side to side, I’m feeling suspicious thing. I’m not a typography nerd, but there are a couple other fields where I could probably use a good punk’ing.


Make the time

Nine years ago (journaling for the win!) I went from zero to rock-climbing in just a few weeks in preparation for a spontaneous, multi-week trip to Colorado. I was staring at my calendar leading up to the trip, and trying to imagine how I’d empty the weeks; how would I stop doing all these things that I do every day to make room for being away.

So I started chopping. This was the turning point where I started getting clear about what I was allowing into my life. First I figured out how to work ahead, or push off work—that’s the usual thing to do in preparation for going away. But then I unsubscribed from countless emails to avoid them piling up, then I unsubscribed from notifications from various services, then I entirely dropped services, and then I started getting intentional about what I was gathering to engage with.

How can I get more cultured / interested in things? I constantly feel I am missing out on conversations as I just don’t have any drive towards joining in. Everything looks meh.

~ Gavin Leech from, https://www.gleech.org/hype

All of my efforts to “make time” over the last nine years have made me realize that I clearly do not have the problem Leech is discussing. I have the other problem. I seem to already be naturally doing all the things he suggests. And I’ve no idea how to stop doing any of that stuff.


Self study

Useless to possess an obedient mind unless one profits to the furthest possible degree by its obedience. A prolonged primary course of study is indicated. Now as to what this course of study should be there cannot be any question; there never has been any question. All the sensible people of all ages are agreed upon it. And it is not literature, nor is it any other art, nor is it history, nor is it any science. It is the study of one’s self. man, know thyself.

~ Arnold Bennett


I did not see that coming

I struggle a lot with processes. I struggle with not implementing all of the processes I imagine. I struggle with gauging if some process will have the desired outcome. I struggle with deciding if I’m fascinated with the process, with the outcome, or simply with novelty in itself. I struggle with knowing when to abandon a process; for something I do which had clear benefits in the past, but isn’t moving me forward right now, how long do I stick with that?

Humans have invented all sorts of practices like this, and their purpose is simply to put your mind somewhere outside of your normal, habitual ways of seeing, and discover what you come back with.

Nobody knows quite what insights and paradigm shifts will be produced by doing these practices, which is exactly why you do them.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/12/you-need-to-see-things-differently-to-do-things-differently/

Over the years I’ve come to terms with my struggles. That’s just the way it is (for me.) Year by year I find I’m increasingly okay with tossing stuff (figuratively and literally.) “Is this working?” seems too dumb to be useful, and yet it cuts as well as Occam’s Razor. Today, I’m downright comfortable with leaving many ideas and opportunities unexplored. “Life moves pretty fast.


Changing the world

Sometimes I sit and reflect on what it’s all been for. When I am able to briefly clutch a bit of perspective, it’s clear that it’s not all “for” anything specific. Life’s a journey, is none the less true for its being cliché.

The naive activist wants to change the world. But that isn’t necessary: the world is changing anyway.

~ Ed Lake from, https://aeon.co/essays/aaron-swartz-was-on-a-crusade-that-is-clear-but-for-what

Lately I seem to be stumbling over a large number of “I should probably know who that is” essays. This one about Swartz is one such essay and it filled in some blanks.

But that little bit which I’ve quoted leapt out at me. The world—all of it, from microbes to society, from rock to Gaia—is so absolutely not static. Any urge I’ve ever had to change anything was actually not an urge for a specific change, rather it was an urge for control.


Not too abnormal

Gnosce teipsum—know yourself. Know yourself in relation to your overt intentions and your hidden motives, in relation to your thinking, your physical functioning and to those greater not-selves, who see to it that, despite all the ego’s attempts at sabotage, the thinking shall be tolerably relevant and the functioning not too abnormal.

~ Aldous Huxley


Know thyself

“Know thyself” is a piece of advice which is as old as civilization, and probably a great deal older. To follow that advice, a man must do more than indulge in introspection. If I would know myself, I must know my environment; for as a body, I am part of the environment, a natural object among other natural objects, and, as a mind, I consist to a great extent of my immediate reactions to the environment and of my secondary reactions to those primary reactions.

~ Aldous Huxley


Anxiously panicking

A couple of weeks ago I started obliterating processes. I’ve often talked about how everything is a process, and I still believe that. However I’d reached a point where I simply had too many processes (I won’t bore you with unbelievable examples) and a couple of weeks ago I decided enough was enough. I spent several days doing nothing but thinking about everything I was doing, and wanted to be doing but wasn’t “getting around to.”

We’re overwhelmed by it all: all the things we have on our plates, all the interruptions and messages and emails, all the things online and on social media, all the news and chaos of the world, all the things going on in our relationships.

~ Leo Babauta from, https://zenhabits.net/onebreath/

Some things I do can feel like a chore but when I was honest, they are actually things I enjoy doing. Furthermore, they pay off outsized benefits for the time they require. What then made them feel like chores? I think it was the anxiety of the other things I felt I should be doing—after all, I put those other things on a list or made a process so I could chip away at them in sane-sized chunks. I went through everything, and then started deleting things from that “everything else” space.

Is this simply me oscillating between no-planning, planning, no-planning, planning? Is this a 2/3-life (or, if I pretend I’ll live long, “mid-life”) crisis? Have I said a polite-but-clear “no” to some big things? Have I been having some anxiety-free days? YES, to all of those. I’m currently trying to be vigilant to notice the first thing I get anxious about—because I’m going to delete that next.