The Statue and the Shadow

A man once carved a very heavy stone into a very beautiful statue. He took great pride in his work and enjoyed how the accomplishment made him feel. His community gathered around and praised him for his work. One person even pointed out that the statue was so well-crafted that even its shadow was beautiful.

There was another man, jealous of the first. He was not jealous of the statue, for he had no appreciation of art nor did he find virtue in work. But he was deeply envious of the esteem of the community.

The deepest cries of his heart’s envy reached dark places, and soon a demon appeared before the jealous man. He made him an offer: “I will give you a shadow that appears just as beautiful as the shadow of the statue, and I shall cast it in front of your home where all may see. Though you will have no statue, your peers will see the shadow and imagine that you do, and will praise you thusly. All I ask in exchange is that any time you would spend building in the future, you instead spend in service to me.”

The jealous man, who had no intention of ever putting in the work to build anything anyway, marveled at his good fortune and agreed instantly. True to his word, a splendid shadow stretched out before the man’s home as if a most glorious statue were hidden just around the hedge. And the people did indeed come and praised the jealous man, for they thought he must be a sculptor of great measure himself.

Soon, people began to ask if they could see the statue itself that would cast such a beautiful shadow, but of course the jealous man would not allow them inside his garden. The more people wanted to see, the more he had to keep them away, until soon he was friendless and isolated for fear that his secret would be discovered. The people from his community gave one last appeal: “Allow us in to see the statue itself on tomorrow’s first light or we shall not care for you again, for we tire of looking only at a shadow.”

Desperate to retain their esteem, the jealous man worked furiously all through the night to try to create a statue that would equal the shadow. But not only did he have none of the ability needed, every piece of stone he attempted to gather simply vanished, for he had already promised his labor to the demon, who had not forgotten.

In the morning, the jealous man was weeping alone in his garden when he was visited by the true sculptor. “Turn away,” yelled the jealous man. “Be gone from here!”

“I already know your secret,” said the sculptor. “I knew it from the first day.”

“How,” demanded the jealous man. “How could you know? The shadow was as beautiful as yours!”

“A true craftsman knows the difference between the statue and the shadow. Eventually all people come to understand it.”

“It isn’t fair,” cried the jealous man. “I have traded away years of my future for a shadow, and you got everything overnight.”

The sculptor laughed. “Overnight? I labored for years to move the stone, years more to carve it, and years before that to learn my craft. You simply weren’t paying attention yet, because work did not impress you, only the result of work. And so you tried to bargain for the result without the work, but one cannot chase both the statue and the shadow. We both gave years of our lives, but I gave them to my own future self, and you gave them away to a demon so that people would think more of you than is deserved. And now you chase those very people away so they don’t discover your fraud.” And the sculptor walked away, leaving the jealous man with nothing of substance, a slave forevermore to his bargain.

A statue will cast a shadow, but a shadow will not a statue make.


Our communities have become very intentional. We talk to who we want to talk to, listen to who we want to listen to, identify with who we want to identify with. Geography isn’t as huge of an influence as it once was (although certainly it still has some impact). But geography is still a binder – you can create communities of choice through technology all you want, but you still live with your neighbors. I wonder how long it will be before geography stops being the controlling factor? How long before technology makes travel, communication and construction all so easy that people could live anywhere they want and still visit anywhere else easily and communicate effortlessly? Until the echo chamber becomes a literal one?

I like being forced by circumstance to talk to just, you know, people. It’s healthy to mix it up.

The Act

What is the perfect action? One that aligns with what you want in the immediate term – it causes no distress. One that aligns with your long-term goals – it causes no worry. One that serves the people you care about – it causes no strife. One that is moral – it causes no harm.

Such acts are rare. When you see the opportunity, do not hesitate.

The Big Trade Off

If you asked me in a vacuum whether or not I’d prefer to accomplish more or be less stressed, I’d say “less stressed.” In practice though, I almost always choose a higher overall level of stress and accomplishment rather than a lower relative level of both.

I want to do things. Not just “I want to have things done,” but I actually want to do those things. (And yes, there’s a difference. Lots of people want a nice garden but don’t want to garden. I enjoy the steps towards my goals, for the most part.) But things cost juice, and a big component of juice is stress. So I usually end up paying the cost.

This is compounded by the fact that I have never ever been good at what I hear people refer to as “stress management techniques.” The only thing that tends to make me less stressed is having things done, but doing things costs stress, etc.

Why write about this here? I don’t like turning this blog into simply a personal venting space, but I do think it’s important to face your flaws head-on, and this is the space where I do that. So the way I see it, I have three possible avenues:

  1. Do less stuff. This would make me less stressed in the short term, but I think it would also make me unhappy in the long term. I do like the stuff I choose to do, and I don’t think any of my big rocks are things I’d get rid of in my life. But it is technically an option.
  2. Find better ways to remove the stress that results from doing stuff. I guess… meditating? I have no idea. I wouldn’t even know how to begin, but I know this is theoretically possible.
  3. Figure out how to reduce the cost in stress for doing stuff. This is where I think the gold is. If there’s a discrete unit of stress, then right now each thing I accomplish is costing me X stress. Could I reduce that to X-1? Maybe even X/2? I think it’s possible.

So there’s the real trick. How do I make accomplishing things less stressful overall?

There’s this thing called the “flow state.” That’s one way of describing this mental space of excellent workflow where you’re accomplishing meaningful, deep work for extended periods of time, and you’re really enjoying it. Feeling it. In the zone. That sort of thing. When people study this, they note that for most people, getting into The Zone requires (in addition to normal stuff like good habits, no distractions, good health, etc.) just the right mix of difficulty and reward for your work.

If your work is too easy, you’re bored. If it’s too hard, you’re stressed. I’m never bored, but often stressed. Does that mean my work is too difficult? That’s tough for me to imagine. The results of the things I’m choosing to do are very good. I’m in high margins in my chosen spheres, and I’m getting the work itself done pretty efficiently. I don’t think core difficulty is the problem.

So maybe it’s that “other stuff?” I’ll be honest – I do not sleep well. I cut WAY back on caffeine in the last year (which I’m happy about for a host of reasons) but it hasn’t done anything for my sleep cycle. And really, I think this is the core problem.

I don’t sleep well. But I’ve “not slept well” for so long, that (for lack of a better way to describe it) I’ve gotten good at not sleeping well. I can function efficiently on 3-4 hours of sleep a night, get everything done that I need to, not make mistakes, etc. But I think the cost of that is all the extra stress.

Now, the real question – is it possible for me to find a way to reduce my stress costs without fixing my sleeping habits, or are the sleeping habits upstream from everything else? If the sleep is foundational, then my road is a hard one, because I’ve been trying to sleep better for more than twenty years. But maybe it’s possible to make other changes that can reduce my stress cost without fixing the sleep habits.

Open to suggestions, as always. And if I find anything interesting, I’ll let you know.


Today was a wonderful, exhausting, wonderful day.

I had no other agenda besides spending the full day with my children, and with the sun finally starting to shine in earnest, we made the most of it. There was a tiny bit of a chill wind, but far from cold enough to prevent a trip to the park, a pizza dinner, and a trip to the local favorite ice cream store. They chased dogs, climbed playground equipment, made about a billion new friends via other families doing the same thing we did. They got hurt a few times, which sounds bad but doing some rough play is essential for growing up healthy.

If I had to define the role of the parent as succinctly as I could, it would be thus: the role of the parent is to provide opportunities to grow to their children. That’s the whole of it, right there. Your job isn’t really to teach – you will teach, but largely as a by-product of living a good life with them. Your job is to provide opportunities to learn, and that’s adjacent but not the same. I play with my kids because I want to, selfishly, because I love and adore them and they’re hilarious. But a sizeable part of their life needs to be spent gradually growing away from me, testing out new relationships, encountering the world on their own terms, and picking up knowledge I never even had in the first place, and thus could never teach them.

If I may get VERY nerdy on you for a moment… when I first learned I was going to be a parent, I had this idea that I would be like Link from The Legend of Zelda. Always protecting and rescuing Zelda (my kids) from danger, always adventuring on their behalf to give them whatever they desired. The reality is that the kids are Link. As the parent, you’re the old man in the cave that says “It’s dangerous to go alone, take this,” gives them their first sword, and then takes no part in the sprawling adventure that awaits.

You provide them with the tools for success, not the success itself. You don’t show them the right way to do things – you give them ample opportunities to safely mess up and learn it themselves. You don’t teach them what you think is important – you build trust so they’ll ask you what they think is important. And then you watch them flourish.


Everyone has to be somewhere. And for the most part, everyone wants to be. You want a place in society that makes sense for you, that stimulates you in the ways that you seek while allowing you to do meaningful things with your time on this planet. That “somewhere” can be a lot of different things – it can be your cabin in the mountains, it can be your religious community, it can be your job, it can be your family.

Each of those somewheres has a different shape. Some people have a problem, which is that they don’t know exactly where they want to be, but they desperately want to be somewhere. So they try not to eliminate any possibilities – but the only way you can fit in all of these different somewheres is if you yourself are shapeless.

But being shapeless isn’t exactly helpful. Part of belonging somewhere is also being meaningful in that place, and there’s no such thing as load-bearing liquid. If you don’t know where you want to be, then work on yourself – who you are is upstream from where you belong. Give yourself some definition, and the right somewhere will come.

In Relation

Who you are in relation to others is not a complete identity, and it never can be. It is a single angle at any given time. Choose any object, and you can’t ever see more than – at most – half of it from where you are. You see facets, other things hidden from you.

Thus is it always with other people. You may know them for a long time, and in that time move around them such that you see every side – but never all at once. You can’t. And you can’t show every side of yourself to another all at once, even if you wanted to.

So don’t stress too much about it. Some pieces will fit together at one angle and won’t fit if you turn them a different way, even if the pieces don’t change. That seam, that border is a thing in itself, and it will vary over time.

You will vary over time, too.

Digital Scraps

Growing up, whenever I would craft something with some raw material – wood, metal, leather, cloth, what have you – I always saved the scraps. “You never know,” I would reason. Maybe there would come some future project where that half-inch-wide, seven-inch-long irregular strip of hide that you cut off the edge of your project would come in handy, right?

Absurd, of course. I was burying myself in needless clutter that never got used and just took up space. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about when you should have exactly this mentality.

You probably shouldn’t keep physical scraps, because the space they take up costs more utility than their future potential utility on a project. But some kinds of scraps take up no space at all.

When I’m writing, I’ll often take a look at a particular paragraph or sentence I’ve constructed within a larger work make a sour face. My instinct is to delete it – and I’m correct, at least insofar as I should remove it from the work. But I don’t actually delete it! I cut and paste that sentence or paragraph into a separate “scrap” document that holds all such writing.

Why? Why not just get rid of it? Well for one, the storage space necessary for text is so minimal that I could never in ten lifetimes fill it up (even if I wrote that much, storage capacity improves exponentially and my writing volume only increases linearly over time, so I’d never catch up). So it’s essentially costless to do this, unlike with those bits of metal and wood. And often, I actually do use the scraps.

I may be working on some future piece of writing and the page I didn’t like six months ago is suddenly the perfect fit with minimal changes. Or I may even just be stuck with some writer’s block and reading through old scraps will inspire me – or at least boost my confidence that I’m improving as a writer.

If you create anything, sometimes you’ll create something you don’t like. Don’t destroy it, because then you waste the effort. Instead, save it somehow – take screenshots of digital art you didn’t like before you start to change it. Keep your unpublished words somewhere. Save a copy of that audio track before you edit it to fix some mistakes or re-record it. It could be exactly the spark you need someday. You never know.


When I was a kid, both of my parents were huge music fans. My father more than my mother, but both had great taste. My father in particular had tremendously prolific tastes and listened to a lot of different stuff, much of which I absolutely loved.

However, as I got older a lot of that was lost. I’d find songs as an adult and suddenly remember that I had loved it as a child, because kids don’t have a lot of ability to hold tightly to the things they enjoy.

So I started a playlist for each of my three kids. Every time they express delight at a particular song they hear, I make sure to add it to the playlist. As they grow, I’ll let them take it over, but this way they can carry their joy through their adolescence and not have to go on a scavenger hunt later in their lives.

New Month’s Resolution – March 2021

Happy New Month!

It’s on the 2nd today for two reasons – one, I accidentally got really inspired on a different topic and forgot it was the first of the month yesterday, and wrote something else. And two, because today is my eldest daughter’s birthday and so that puts me in a ‘new beginnings’ kind of mood. Plus, I made up the whole ‘New Month’s Resolution’ thing anyway, so I can do it when I want!

February’s resolution was pretty successful – I managed to create my “relaxation zone” a handful of times and it was very nice. It also made me realize that more of my resolutions need to be in that direction; I’m not in any particular danger of accidentally not working hard. If anything, I’m more likely to push myself past the point of breaking, and I don’t want that to happen. I want to be around for a lot more of my kids’ birthdays.

So my resolution this month is something that comes very naturally for some, but for me requires deliberate action. I want to spend 10 minutes every day in direct sunlight, weather permitting.

I don’t commute to work, and the days have been short, cold and dreary of late. I haven’t had a lot of natural reasons to go outside. But sunlight makes me strong as it does you, and so I’m going to just go let it cover me and fuel me for ten minutes of nothing else each day that the sun chooses to show itself.

This is where it was when I became a father. It’s worth noting.