The practice

I am often stuck in the resistance right before actually writing. It usually takes me several attempts to approach the work. It feels like walking up the slippery slope of a small hill, where the initial speed and direction has to be perfect, and then with continued effort—a penguin waddling judiciously—I reach the gently rounded top of the hill (after sliding off obtusely a few times and beginning again.)

I can easily be nudged into sliding off that small hill by distractions. I’m drawn to address the distraction. Can I fix that so it doesn’t happen again? (For example, change fundamentally how my phone is configured.) But I know that distractions are not all bad and I know that I can hide in the busyness of getting things just right. (Hazards warned of by both Pressfield and Godin.)

Besides that, if you want to get anywhere interesting, there’s no substitute – not even talent – for grinding away at something year after year until you’ve put more work into it than almost anyone else alive.

~ Cierra Martin from, https://www.gapingvoid.com/what-is-your-practice/

The word grinding feels too negative a way to spin simply doing the work. If I think, “that’s going to be grinding,” I’m setting myself up to more easily slide off that little hill. Because invariably—for the things I have to, and want to, do—the actual work is exceedingly easy. Easy like gleeful skipping. All of the hard part is in the way I think about the work before I ever begin. Even using the word “work” feels too negative. All of the hard part is in the way I think about the practice.

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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.

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Still, choose today

Back at the start of January I mentioned, “Indeed. If it is to my advantage tomorrow, it is much more so today.” My touch phrase, “choose today” for 2023 continues to be a poignant reminder. I’ve now written it at the bottom of every journal entry this year, it often comes to mind in moments when I most need it, and it always reminds me of this:

Stick to what’s in front of you—idea, action, utterance. This is what you deserve. You could be good today. But instead you choose tomorrow.

~ Marcus Aurelius

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“If it is to my advantage tomorrow, it is much more so today.” is a direct quote of Epictetus. Aurelius was born shortly after Epictetus’s death. But Aurelius makes a point of thanking one of his teachers, Rusticus saying in part, “[…] And for introducing me to Epictetus’s lectures–and loaning me his own copy.”

Which leads me to the first thing “choose today” reminds me of each day: Knowledge, and in particular wisdom, are gained through others by seeking out those who have something you wish to learn. These people which I’m mentioning lived thousands of years ago. Others (in other traditions from other regions of the world in other centuries) have separately discovered these same ideas, which makes it clear to me that these ideas are worth considering.

The second thing “choose today” reminds me of is to be forward-looking. Certainly I want to observe and consider my past (and the past of others!) but I should be looking towards the future. If something feels urgent, then where exactly is that sense of urgency coming from, and is the urgency real? If something feels important— same questions. If something feels _insert_whatever_here_— same questions. And then, what can I choose today?

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Provoking the powerful

One reason I write here, is because I think it’s healthy for me to work with the garage door up. My choice of the guideline that herein I write about myself and things I find lying about reminds me to stick with sharing my subjective experience. Long ago I began suppressing my urge to share my opinions, and gosh, that turns out to be liberating.

This is the birth of “epistemic humility” in Western philosophy: the acknowledgment that one’s blind spots and shortcomings are an invitation for ongoing intellectual investigation and growth.

~ J. W. Traphagan and John J. Kaag from, https://theconversation.com/what-socrates-know-nothing-wisdom-can-teach-a-polarized-america-202696

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The confetti gun of opinions seems always to be spewing. For a while I was concerned that my expanding humility would create a sort of power vacuum into which even more opinions of others would drift and settle. But, nope. Removing my contribution has made no difference in the fluttering mess. None the less, it’s simply nice not to feel urgency to contribute to the mess.

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Antifragile

The aims of safety-ism were noble. They saw that young people were experiencing greater amounts of anxiety, stress, and depression than previous generations and sought to remedy their angst by protecting them from anything that could potentially harm or upset them.

~ Mark Manson from, https://markmanson.net/trigger-warning

It always seemed obvious to me that wasn’t going to work. When I find something which triggers me, that’s a problem with me; That points me towards something I can improve upon. The problem is not the problem. The problem is my attitude towards the problem.

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Self-reliant

Being self-reliant is critical. To make yourself less dependent on others and so-called experts, you need to expand your repertoire of skills. And you need to feel more confident in your own judgement. Understand: We tend to overestimate other people’s abilities—after all, they’re trying hard to make it look as if they knew what they were doing—and we tend to underestimate our own. You must compensate for this by trusting yourself more and others less.

~ Robert Greene

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Disenchanted with entertainment

I turned 50 this summer, a natural place to pause and reflect. If I’m lucky, I’m probably halfway through my adult years (I don’t count childhood – think of that as season 1, where we were underfunded and hadn’t found the plot yet). My work is changing some in my day job. Personally, some things have changed, and things that once were dreams are now off the table. So, transitions.

~ Hugh Hollowell from https://www.soverybeautiful.org/inertia-is-a-hell-of-a-drug/

Alas, I think that link has already broken. (But the Internet Archive will have it.) I’ve chosen that quote simply because it’s the first time I’ve seen one’s childhood called “season 1.” That’s a sublime metaphor. Most modern, streaming shows have a horrible first season while the writers try to figure out what they’re even doing; Or they have a horrible second season where the first season was great and instead of having a good ending they’re continuing to worship the cash cow; So, generally horrible overall then.

The real difference between those good shows and bad, is whether or not they do what movies do: Do they plan out the entire thing in advance? Movies can suck and they can morph into something entirely different from the initial vision, but they are a complete thing when seen. Which then suggests one reason why more movies are starting to suck. Their plan is to have the movie be an episode within a huge cinematic universe. *eye-roll*

Good entertainment is a good story told well. Good stories have an ending.

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Vannevar Bush

Vannevar Bush—head of military research during WW2, author of “As We May Think” and “Science, the Endless Frontier”—wrote a memoir late in life, Pieces of the Action. It was out of print and hard to obtain for a long time, but Stripe Press has brought it back in a new edition with a foreword from Ben Reinhardt. […] Here are some of my favorite quotes from the original edition:

~ Jason Crawford from, https://rootsofprogress.org/vannevar-bush-memoir-highlights

There’s a sort of incredulous-eyes, slight shaking of the head, expression that I make when I want to emphasize just how amazing I find it to be when I gape into the maw of All Human Knowledge. Sometimes I find something like this which is so blindingly important to so much of the society and culture upon which I find myself standing, that I’m drawn up short. I feel like I’ve heard the name “Vannevar Bush” but I couldn’t have told you a thing about that person. Then I look at the hundreds of unread books, and the hundreds of digital, read-later things I’ve collected, and I smile, because I think I get it.

I smile when I manage to remember that there’s no goal. The point isn’t to accomplish anything in particular (fix something big in the world, follow every thread of interest, learn the question whose answer is 42.) The point isn’t even to enjoy the ride. The point is, how you answer the question life asks you.

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Emotional flooding

Whenever I hear about these incidents, I think of the best life advice I ever got, from my older brother: “Don’t freak out.” He was giving me a parenting tip, but really, it applies to everything in life. Freaking out—“emotional flooding,” in social-science jargon—never seems to make matters better, and we nearly always regret it. The fact that freak-outs may be happening with particular frequency right now is an opportunity to understand the phenomenon in ourselves and learn to manage our emotions better. If we do, we will be equipped with a skill that helps us be better friends, parents, spouses, and professionals, even when the pandemic is nothing but a distant memory.

~ Arthur C. Brooks from, https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2022/04/how-to-manage-emotions-and-reactions/629692/

I truly hope you’ve not experienced flooded emotions, recently or otherwise. For me, this is a big part of how my atypical brain works. I don’t have an emotional range. I have two settings labeled zero and eleven. Eleven means I love sappy movies, can get really engaged in helping people, and much more. But, I had to learn how to disengage when my emotions flare; I had to become a master at pausing while deciding what I want to happen.

But having a level–zero non-response to most everything means I can function very well under duress. For example, if the roof of the house is mid-repair, it’s been raining hard for hours, the ceiling is leaking in various places, and then the hard-wired fire alarm shorts out (ie, goes off) when water gets into a sensor, the deafening, in–house klaxon sounds, my cellphone rings as the monitoring company reports there’s a fire… Well, level-zero means I can repeatedly work the keypad to disable the fire alarm, even though it goes off again in a few seconds, give the person on my cellphone my alarm code to avert the fire department’s being dispatched, and then quickly work to physically disable the alarm system (even though it’s intentionally tamper– and disable–resistant.) All without my heart–rate rising; while actually feeling bored by it all.

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Our sense of what’s possible

The people we’re surrounded by limit or expand our sense of what is possible.

~ Brett McKay from, https://www.artofmanliness.com/people/relationships/sunday-firesides-relationships-over-willpower/

That’s a perfect turn of phrase from McKay. I love to find myself exposed to new people; those moments where I think, “that’s interesting!” are like single-serving sized friends (with hat tip to Chuck Palahniuk).

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Who’s in charge?

But then [Seneca] gives the real reason: “The body should be treated more rigorously that it may not be disobedient to the mind.” I think about that every morning just before I crank the knob. Who is in charge? The courageous side of me or the cowardly side? The side that doesn’t flinch at discomfort or the side that desires to always be comfortable? The side that does the hard thing or the side that takes the easy way?

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/do-something-that-scares-you-every-day/

This made me think. Usually, I share others’ writing because I thought highly of it. In this case, I’m hesitant to say this, however: I’ve never thought my body was in charge.

Certainly(!) I have reflexes and bodily functions or urges which my mind has no control over. Certainly flinching (under cold water for example) is something you can learn to reduce. I’ve always thought of my mind as the one who’s not always the best captain of the ship. I don’t need to train to put my mind in charge of my body.

Recently I hurt my back. The story begins with my doing some truly pathetic, free-weight exercises to strengthen my back. I over did it. Then I ate poorly and wound up bloated and a few pounds heavier. Then I went rock climbing and worked on a problem (a challenging combination of moves and skills, in an easy to access location rather than 2 hours up some mountain, so one can spend time with it) that involved maximum–strength pulling with my arms while pushing with my legs. Boink! Ow, my back. I managed to calmly pack my 20 pounds of things into my pack, walk back to the car and drive myself 3 hours home. There were a myriad of things that could have set me off in the moment, on the drive, and in the coming days: acute pain, inability to sleep well, the inability to reach my feet or wipe my butt, the fact that I did it all to myself while trying to improve my body, drivers on the highways and people who tried to talk to me, the overall setback, … so many things. But instead, I was reasonable with everyone. I did what I could do, rested and recovered. A week later—just as I knew I would be—I’m back to where I was before I picked up the free-weights. Ready to try again at improving myself (and planning an even more gradual start.)

So I’m inclined to say: My mind is clearly in charge, even under duress.

What I was thinking about, in that first sentence here, was if I have trained to put my mind in charge, that means there’s room for more training.

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Novelty

I get the feeling that a lot of us are afraid of repeating ourselves – as if doing so demonstrates a lack of originality or a “less than” memory.

~ Jon Yuen from, https://www.yuenjon.com/articles/2020/6/5/reminders

Clearly (based on all these blog posts) I’m not afraid of repeating myself, and it feels in each moment as if I’m repeating myself. I see the same patterns in what interests me, and I think the same trains of thoughts. When I zoom farther out however, I see long, slow trends. The problem for me with repetition is that I find the salience of things tapers away towards zero. I’m [knowingly] within a few feet of a snake so rarely that my brain effortlessly applies maximum attention; but the number on the scale, not so much. What works for me is when the repetition is uncertain. I know I’ll read one of my quotes tomorrow, but it’ll be a random one—and I’ll remember it instantly as soon as I start reading it. Repetition repetition on to something else then… surprise! …more repetition!

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