Here it is. The last ride out for the year.

In a lot of game shows, when a contestant has to answer a series of questions or do a series of tasks rapidly under a tight time constraint, they’ll have the option to “pass.” They just forfeit the point, but they get to move on to the next question. If this option wasn’t there, then they could end up losing all of their time to a single question or task that they couldn’t do.

Passing is important. Sometimes the correct thing to do is maximize the resources you’ll bring to bear on the next task, whether it’s time, energy, or whatever other juice you need to spend. My point is that you probably have things you wanted to get done in 2021 and didn’t. Well, don’t carry it over. You can make a new goal that starts with the universe as it is right now, but that’s better than dragging with you the “unfinished business” of a goal you didn’t meet.

It’s time to let the year pass, as all years must do. Put a bow on it.

Jetboy Werewolf

In one of the stories in Asimov’s I, Robot there is a robot charged with beaming energy from a space station down to Earth. If he does it correctly, Earth gets an abundance of cheap energy. If he does it wrong, millions of people die from this huge energy blast hitting the planet. The problem is that this particular robot has become convinced that Earth does not exist.

Some of the main recurring characters in this book are these “robot psychologists” who deal with this sort of thing, so they fly out to the station to try to convince the robot that Earth is real. The robot just thinks that nothing outside of his station exists and some omnipotent “creator” is testing him. The psychologists are pretty sure Earth is doomed because they can’t convince the robot otherwise, but when the time comes to execute the energy transfer, the robot does it flawlessly. It was part of his delusion that this omnipotent “creator” wanted him to execute the transfer, so he did it. He didn’t need to believe Earth was real, he just needed to know how to do his job and be motivated to do so.

Skill is one thing, but motivation can come from all sorts of sources that aren’t true or accurate.

My son currently has a superheroic alter-ego that he plays as very frequently. This superhero is named “Jetboy Werewolf” and his superpower is that he’s a werewolf with a jetpack. I’ll give you a minute to recover from how incredibly awesome that is.

All my kids are normally good about chores, but that doesn’t mean that they’re often enthusiastic. However, if I frame a chore as some sort of evil plot that only Jetboy Werewolf can foil, my son suddenly gains maximum motivation and does that chore with the speed that only a werewolf with a jetpack could manage. He’ll put away every toy and clean up every piece of laundry in an instant if I exclaim that the mess was made by evil lava monsters that can only be defeated by cleaning up.

In other words, just like with the robot, the key is to embrace and engage. If that’s where your motivation comes from and all I really care about are the results, why would I fight the way you want to see the world?

You can extrapolate this into all sorts of other things in life. People see the world differently than you. Some part of that worldview informs their motives. The worldview might motivate them against you, in which case you might have to spend some time pushing back if you have no other options (though in my view, you almost always do have other options, including just leaving them alone and finding someone better aligned to work with). But sometimes people’s worldview actually motivates them in the same direction as someone else, but that “someone else” will still waste breath trying to fight that worldview, just because they don’t share it.

This is, of course, bananas. If you want to raise money for a charity, and someone says “My worship of the Titanic Space Penguin Bocoraz demands that I donate money to exactly this charity or he will smash me to pieces with comets, the Icebergs of Space,” then you could waste a bunch of time trying to convince this person that their worldview is patently insane, or you could just accept that for whatever reason you both want the same thing and cash the check.

It’s crazy to me that there is anyone who chooses the former, but people frequently do. Don’t be one of them.

The World As It Is

One of my fundamental operating beliefs is that you can’t change the conditions of the world that led to a particular problem once you’ve already engaged with it. As soon as the problem is happening to you, right now, you have to just engage with it as it is. If it’s possible to change those base conditions to prevent such problems in the future, great – but the time to do so is after the current example of the problem is fixed.

People get very frustrated when they encounter a problem and then say to themselves “this problem would be so easy to solve if only the world were configured this other way,” and that’s this mental dead-end they’ve built for themselves that shuts down all creative problem-solving.

Here’s an example: someone I once knew got mugged and lost the money they needed to pay rent. This was a problem! But all they could focus on was how they wanted the world to be structured in such a way that crime like that didn’t happen (or at least, didn’t happen to them). They were completely unfocused on the actual problem they needed to solve, which was: “how do I get the money I need to pay rent tomorrow?”

Lowering crime rates overall, making yourself more crime-resistant, etc. – these are all conditions. They don’t do a thing to help you right now. Right now, the world as it is has left you a few hundred bucks short of your bills, and you’ve got to solve that problem. Focus.

You don’t want to hear that. No one does. When a company leader loses half their workforce because they didn’t keep up with shifting market conditions, they want to focus on how they wish employees were more loyal. But that’s not their problem – their problem is how to open their doors tomorrow.

It’s not that people are bad at long-term thinking in general. It’s that they’re great at it, exactly when it’s wrong to be great at it. They think long-term when it’s too late, and they don’t think about it at all when they should, which is after the immediate crisis is resolved.

Think of it like this: no matter what it seems like, there is always a problem in front of you. The only difference is distance. Sometimes it’s right in front of you, sometimes it’s a few miles off. Whether you should be thinking short-term or long-term is entirely proportional to how far off that problem is. If it’s right in front of you, think short-term to solve it. If you think there’s no problem at all, think long-term, because there is.

That’s the world as it is. You can wish it wasn’t so, but wishes aren’t horses, my friend.


Yesterday I got a little notification after posting that said I had made one thousand posts to this blog. That makes today number one thousand and one.

When I realized how that number lined up with the particular day, this entire post wrote itself in my mind. My hands have been shaking and my chest hurts from the task of this. This won’t be a usual post, and it probably won’t be pleasant to read. It will also probably be long, so you can feel free to tune back in tomorrow if that’s not your speed. But I’m writing it anyway.

In the incredibly famous One Thousand and One Nights, Scheherazade is the main character and narrator. In the story, the king is convinced that anyone he marries will betray him, so he marries a succession of women and then kills them the morning after the wedding before they can do so. Scheherezade is the latest bride and wishes to avoid her fate. So on the wedding night, she starts telling the king a story but leaves it at a cliffhanger. The king is compelled to hear the end, so he spares her for a night. But on the next night, she finishes the first story but starts telling another. By leaving each story unfinished until the next night, she keeps herself alive for a thousand and one nights, at which point the king just agrees that he won’t kill her at all.

So, if you tell a thousand and one stories, you earn your life.

I didn’t time this on purpose. I started this blog on an arbitrary day with no other significance. I certainly didn’t do any sort of math to ensure that this particular syzygy would happen. But it turns out, sometimes life has a decent sense of literary pacing.

Exactly three years ago today, I attempted suicide.

I have not talked publicly about this and no one outside of my close circle knows, but there it is. My youngest child was only a few months old. It was dark and cold, but very clear. I drove to a place I knew very well and had very fond memories of. I tied a very poor noose in probably the wrong kind of rope and threw it over the rafter of a barn. I sent text messages to loved ones that I felt at the time were suitable good-byes but were in reality, thank goodness, cries for help that enabled someone to come find me and get me down before I managed to die in spite of my general bumbling of the process.

I’ve discovered that it’s natural at this point in the story for people to want to ask why. Lots of people have asked. No one has yet been satisfied with what I’ve told them. I’m not sure you’ll be any more satisfied, but at least here I can write it rather than choking through it verbally. Asking why I did it feels to me like asking someone with the flu why they sneeze. The person with the flu doesn’t consciously say “okay, I’m choosing to rapidly expel air out of my nose and mouth right now, after which I’ll make my body temperature go up, and then for good measure, I’ll leak a little bit from my sinuses and maybe dump out the contents of my stomach through my mouth, too.” Those aren’t conscious choices, they’re just side effects. Symptoms of being sick.

People want me to tell them that my life was bad, or that I was facing some insurmountable challenge, or something like that. But I wasn’t. My life wasn’t perfect, and it still isn’t, but it was good and it had a lot of good in it. I actually think that sometimes suicide can make sense as a tactical choice. I think if you’re terminally ill and the only thing ahead of you is a lot of pain and then a slow death, it’s a perfectly reasonable and rational choice to skip the “pain and slow” part of that. If someone has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and they choose instead to kill themselves, I’m sad – but I get it. But this wasn’t that. It wasn’t a tactical choice I was making with a rational mind. It was sneezing.

Now, that doesn’t mean you don’t have any control. Just like the flu, you can definitely influence whether or not you get it. You can get the flu shot, you can wash your hands a lot, you can get plenty of vitamins, and overall have a healthy immune system. That doesn’t mean there’s this direct line of “I sneezed because I didn’t drink enough orange juice,” but it does mean that there’s a correlation between a healthy body and sneezing. (At least for me. This certainly isn’t meant to be advice for other people, or any sort of judgment on their conditions or actions.)

I wish I could say that after my suicide attempt, my friends and family rallied around me and showered me with love and support so that I could heal and get better. But that isn’t what happened. It was, without a doubt, the worst day of my life – and every new thing that happened that day made it worse. Close friends and family shunned me, chastised me, condemned me. They weren’t wrong that what I had done was a harmful, selfish act – but a barrage of screaming insults wasn’t exactly helpful, either. I was kicked out of my home. I was met with nothing but scorn. Lots of friends and family stopped talking to me at all; a few have begun again, but many still don’t.

So, one of the lessons learned: negative action leads to negative results. I’m sure in that moment that part of me just wanted people to understand the pain I was in, but positive change doesn’t come from negative actions.

Another of the lessons learned is that it’s not actually possible for other people to understand your pain. You can’t understand theirs, either. Pain is so subjective, so unique, that it can’t be compared or described or understood in any way that’s meaningful. If you need an active response, you sort of just have to skip the “understanding” part and ask for the response you need. It’s like expecting someone else to truly understand how thirsty you are before they’ll get you water. Even if they were exactly as dehydrated as you, their thirst will manifest differently, it will feel different, they’ll react to it and internalize it and contextualize it all differently. That connection can’t happen. So just ask for the glass of water.

Yet another lesson learned was that if I wanted to build a life that was insulated against this happening again, it had to be done differently. It had to be built on different foundations. That lesson wasn’t instantaneous, I’m afraid. That one took a few months as things fell even further apart. I lost my job, I got divorced, and I continued to feel even more isolated and hurt. I saw that what happened that day wasn’t the bottom – not yet. The bottom was Death. I had fallen a lot but fallen short of the bottom, and if I wasn’t careful and didn’t start climbing then there was still plenty of fall left.

So I started to work on it.

I changed a lot of my priorities. The importance of the relationship with my children came even more clearly into focus and captured the lion’s share of my attention and investment. Personal health – both mental and physical – became dramatically more important. Being substantially more careful about who I spent time with, who I allowed access to me on a regular basis (both personally and professionally) was a major improvement. I sought out professional help in various channels, and all of it was helpful in some way.

And I started to write this blog. I had become more selective about who I spoke with on a regular basis, and a lot of thoughts that used to just come tumbling out in conversation were now rattling around with nowhere to go. I could not begin to describe how helpful and healthy it has been to have this space. I am not ending this; I have more stories still.

But I’ve written now a thousand and one. My hands aren’t shaking the way they were when I began typing (though maybe they will when I go to hit “publish,” who knows), and I think perhaps the king has spared my life. I think I’ve earned my escape from death, at least from this one. Despite the hardships, so many wonderful things have happened to me in the last three years. This blog has helped me embrace them, draw lessons from them, and appreciate them. It’s helped me process the harder times when echoes of a darker life have caused me to stumble.

There will be a tomorrow. That’s the bargain. As long as I have a story, there will be a tomorrow – and as long as there’s a tomorrow, it will give me another story. There will always be a lesson to learn, and then always a new challenge in which to apply those learnings.

See you tomorrow, your majesty.

Action News

A useful skill is being able to correctly identify the kind of information you need to solve a problem right now, as opposed to just information that is good.

If your car has a flat tire, then there’s a certain kind of information that’s actionable. Is there a spare? Where is it? Do I have a jack and other necessary tools? Am I somewhere safe? Is the delay going to cause any problems that I need to get ahead of? These are actionable questions, the answers to which can help you.

Whether or not cholesterol is good for you might be good information to have. But it can’t change your course of action in a meaningful way right now.

Okay, that’s the simple version. Sure, if your tire is flat you don’t care about how healthy eggs are, even if that’s good to know in the abstract. But in real life, this scenario repeats itself a lot and you need to know how to manage it. Because it doesn’t happen by accident.

You will have lots of short-term dilemmas that need to get solved in your life, and during those somewhat stressful times, people will be attempting to alter your long-term trajectory by bending it towards their own agendas. They will do this by shooting information at you disguised as information that can help your short-term problem.

Look, I’m going to tell you a secret. If you’re worried about how to make next month’s rent payment, it doesn’t matter who the President is going to be in two years. That information isn’t actionable to your immediate needs. But there are sure people who are going to claim it is!

Pause and breathe. Consider sources and motivations. Consider whether you sought this information out, or whether it came to you unbidden. Consider your capacity for examining counterfactuals. Consider trust.

But consider.

Creating a Path

You cannot create a harvest that will feed you solely by deciding what not to plant.

No matter how many crops you reject, nothing magically grows until you decide on one that you do want, and plant it. Saying, “I don’t want corn, I don’t want potatoes, I don’t want wheat, I don’t want lettuce…” enough times doesn’t make tomatoes sprout.

Narrowing your own possibility space will not create anything. It should never be your first move. Your possibility space will naturally narrow as you make affirmative choices, but the reverse isn’t true – affirmative choices won’t get made as you reject options.


“Don’t waste time endlessly tuning your instruments,” my daughter reads from the slip of paper tucked inside her fortune cookie. “Just start making music.”

“Huh,” she says. “That’s good advice. I mean, these aren’t supposed to be ‘advice cookies,’ but at least it was good.”

Merry Christmas, every one.

The Night Before

I very rarely sleep well. The one exception is usually the night before some big, major thing. For many people, that’s the night they sleep the worst – for me, it’s one of the rare times I sleep easily and well. Something about being right at the edge of some major event or milestone puts me in a serene way.

To all: a good night.

Thought Snare

Yesterday, an interesting thought popped into my head. As I rolled it over in my mind a little, a parallel thought emerged (as it frequently does): “this will be a good blog post.”

That sort of let me pause my thinking on the topic; I often do my best thinking here in this space, exploring the topic through words as I write them. Letting the natural shape of things appear as I grapple with the implications from the outside.

And so I paused my thinking. And also – since I was in the middle of something else that demanded both my mental attention and the physical use of my hands at the time – completely missed writing it down and have thus forgotten it.

It will come to me, I’m sure. Most such thoughts do return to me because they were the natural result of the things I encounter or engage with, and I’m sure those stimuli will repeat. But until then it will gnaw at me.

Oh! It worked. Writing that worked, the thought returned to me. Ha! I knew that would work. I could delete the above paragraphs now that I’ve remembered the topic. But I think I’ll just go from here, and be amused later when I read this.

Actual Topic: Why It Gets Harder to Form Meaningful Bonds and Relationships with People and Concepts as You Age

So, you’ve got this plank of wood. It’s solid; it has no holes in it. That’s you. When something new enters your life, it cuts a hole in that plank of wood in its own shape, and then fills it. So your first best friend or your first favorite hobby is a circle, let’s say. It cuts a circle-shaped hole and then fills it, occupying that part of your life. Your life still feels whole.

But then let’s say over time, your relationship with that concept fades. The best friend moves away or you lose interest in the hobby. So you look for something new – and you find it! A new friend, a new interest, etc. But that new thing is a triangle, not a circle. It’s different. So it won’t exactly fit in the circle hole that’s already there. You have to cut the shape out a little differently for the triangle to fit. It fills most of the gap, but not perfectly. Maybe you don’t even notice at first.

But this happens again and again and again. Each new shape takes a new chunk out of the plank, or it just fits loosely into the jagged hole already there but doesn’t plug it at all. Maybe you get more and more picky, trying to find things that are exactly the shape of the messy space you’re trying to fill, but no such natural shape exists. Maybe you try to force other things to become that shape, but that never works. And so with each new thing, it becomes harder and harder to meaningfully feel whole.

A cynical person would say that the answer is to simply leave your plank of wood intact from the beginning. Don’t cut holes in it at all. But that seems like a sad way to live. No, I think the better solution is to find a way to repair the wood – or even be something less immutable, more repairable than “wood” to begin with. I’m just not sure how to do that.

Be Of Good Cheer

There are two kinds of people that like theater. There are people who primarily like to experience theater; people who enjoy being in the audience. They love the shows, the production, the performances. They love watching a story unfold, discussing it with peers, and are excited for the next one.

Then there are the people who primarily like to produce theater. Actors, directors, writers, designers, composers, and all manner of cast and crew. They pour tremendous effort into the act in order to create something for others to enjoy. Of course, they get enjoyment out of it themselves, but it’s of a different sort.

While there is plenty of overlap between the two groups (many people can be both!), by the nature of the art there have to be more people in the former category than the latter. For everyone who contributes to theater, there must be scores to thousands of people who primarily (or exclusively) only experience it from the audience. That’s not only okay, it’s great. It would be absurd if it were otherwise.

Imagine meeting someone who loved theater, attended dozens of plays a year, and was a regular donor to their local community theater troupe, but never was a member of cast or crew themselves. Would you accuse that person of not having “the theater spirit?” Of course not.

This is how I feel about Christmas.

I love Christmas. But I frequently get accused of not loving it, because I don’t love decorating, or baking, or putting up trees, or getting/receiving presents (other than for my children). But I do love Christmas music, holiday movies, seasonal get-togethers (as long as I’m not hosting them), and the general spirit of the holiday.

I don’t feel that I need to produce Christmas any more than I need to produce a play in order to be a lover of theater. So this year, I didn’t. This year, I went full-on audience member. I took my kids to a ton of Christmas-related stuff (we went to a holiday-themed park attraction, we drove around town for hours looking at lights and listening to Christmas music, we visited Santa, we decorated gingerbread houses with family members), but I did zero decorating. We have a tree up now – I put it up and let my kids do whatever they wanted to it, and it’s more perfect than anything I could have put effort into. Come Christmas morning, there will still be plenty of presents under it.

It was… wonderful. Just getting to experience Christmas without having to feel like I needed to do anything to create it. Wouldn’t you know it, it happened anyway! And I got to spend so much more time with my children, so much more time being present with them, than if I was scrambling to manufacture magic.

Every single second of your life will happen. Most of them don’t need you to do much to them; they’ll be perfect the way they are as long as you’re there for them. Save your effort for the big moments, the ones that will cascade down into all those other ones, and then let those other ones come as they are. Live them.