Shapeless

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.

Play

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.

Unshakeable

In response to my post yesterday, a frequent reader asked a keen question relating to facts and principles. In thinking about a response, I realized that I had more to say than the medium of his question would allow, so here’s another post!

First, I think of facts and principles as different things. Fundamentally different. I don’t think a fact can be a principle. I think that if facts are like books, then principles are like bookshelves. They’re where you put your facts so you know how to reference them, how to use them, and how they fit together. Facts are static. Principles allow you to turn them into dynamic fuel for a good life – if the shelves are sturdy, that is.

If you don’t have principles, then every single fact will cause some reaction in you. Either it will fit with the existing pile of books on your floor or it will cause it to topple. If it threatens to topple it, you may bat it away instead. With solid shelves, however, I never live in fear of any book. Any fact, no matter what it is, can fit onto my bookshelf without threatening its integrity. That means I don’t fear facts or information.

For instance, one of my rock-solid, core foundational beliefs is that people own themselves, and are owned by no other. I don’t believe that I’m infallible, so I won’t say I would never change that belief, but let’s just say it would take an enormous philosophical effort to convince me otherwise. That core principle allows me to absorb other facts without fear.

For instance, let’s say I hear a statistic about drug addiction that (after verifying that it’s true and accurate) would lead me to believe that the problem is significantly worse than I would have guessed. I don’t have to be reactive. I don’t have to build a whole new worldview on the spot, as many people do. People with no foundational principles might hear that fact and suddenly have an entirely new outlook on life, something like “We have to do a bunch of draconian things to prevent people from getting their hands on drugs,” but that outlook is entirely reactive. They had no foundational principle guiding their impulse – they simply reacted to a single new fact that they heard. On the other hand, I would say “People own themselves, and that includes the right to do bad things to themselves. I don’t agree, but I don’t have to. Any resources put towards this issue should be spent on education and/or preventing spillover effects such as theft, not policing the use of drugs themselves, which would also punish many otherwise innocent people.” Now, I’m not saying that I’m absolutely always right or anything, but at least my view is guided by an underlying principle, rather than a reaction to the single fact.

Having an underlying principle also allows you to be “constructively wrong” more often. For instance, let’s say you heard that fact about drug addiction rates, and on that single fact you built your entire reactive worldview about draconian anti-drug efforts. You stack more and more books on top of that one, creating a shaky tower. Facts that don’t fit in the tower are conveniently discarded. And then one day… one day someone shows you conclusive evidence that the original statistic about drug addiction had a mathematical error and was actually an order of magnitude lower. What happens? Does your whole tower come crashing down and you admit your worldview was incorrect, revising it as appropriate?

Hahahahahaha. No. You dig in your heels and reject the correction. Because you can’t ever change whatever is at the bottom of the stack.

But the bottom of my stack isn’t a fact – it’s a shelf. A principle. If I found out that statistic was off by an order of magnitude, it wouldn’t shake me at all, and I would have no problem incorporating the new, updated information. I could safely say that my reaction overall wouldn’t be different, though I’d support a proportionately lower volume of resources being put towards the issue. Otherwise I’d be able to shrug at my past mistake and move forward.

The really tricky, insidious thing is this – despite the analogy I’ve crafted, everyone has a principle underneath the pile of facts. The floor, if you will. Because there is a default principle that all humans possess. We’re not blank slates; we don’t have chosen principles or nothing. If we have chosen principles, we’ve used them to replace the default one, but that default one exists in all of us unless we do so.

The Default Principle is this: My Tribe Is Correct.

Humans are tribal, social creatures. We will organize into cliques no matter what, along any subject. And absent some other principle that we learn to impose on ourselves through reason and discipline, that one will rule us. It might be your political affiliation, it might be your chosen profession, it might be your religious belief, or it might even be your musical sub-culture. But whatever you think of as your identity, you will think of other people who share that identity as the ingroup and you will defer to them, seek status with them, defend them, and rationalize their behavior no matter what.

One of my principles is this: Tribalism is fundamentally dangerous and any inclination towards it should be viewed with deep suspicion.

Sure, society is good. People are good. It’s good to have friends and family and community. But when you start to feel yourself pulled towards the average view, feeling your emotions riled up when you hear things counter to it – alarms should start sounding. At least, I believe so.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).” – Mark Twain, 1904

Unbelievable

One way to always be believed is to always say reasonable, believable things. Things that other people already mostly believe or at least want to, whether it’s about you, the world, or themselves. If you limit yourself to always staying neatly within the lines of “believability” in this way, then likely most people will nod their heads in agreement when you speak.

Of course, you’re likely not saying anything that’s true, relevant, interesting, or important if that’s the case.

People like to think they’ve got it all right. That their world view and collection of facts, even if incomplete, isn’t incorrect. Sure, there might be things I don’t know, but those things all would fit neatly with what I do know if I learned them.

But a fact that not-so-gently nudges one of my existing thoughts out of place, never to find a comfortable resting place again? Well, that’s just unbelievable.

So don’t take it personally. People are people. You could spend a lot of time fruitlessly trying to convince them – or you could spend much more productive time acting on the things that are true in your own life.

Escapism

Today, as part of her birthday celebration, I and a few other relatives took my oldest daughter to her first ever Escape Room. She had no idea that’s where she was headed; the whole thing was a surprise for her.

Watching her unleash her glorious mind on the puzzles surrounding her in that environment was incredible. Last night I watched her fly through the air and break a board with a kick. Today I watched her not only complete an Escape Room, but she got the all-time high score for that room at the place we went to.

I’m not raising a kid. I’m training a superhero.

Vending Machine

You see someone walk up to a vending machine. They open up their purse or wallet or whatever, and inside is a stack of dollar bills. They carefully examine the stack to select the best possible dollar, then on top of that they take extra care to smooth it out and maybe even clean it before inserting it into the machine. Then, once the dollar goes in, they mash the keypad at random and take whatever the machine spits out. Then they look at it, sigh in a sort of disappointed manner, and hope for better next time.

You would think you were looking at a lunatic, wouldn’t you?

Imagine being so totally consumed with being meticulous about what you’re giving away while putting absolutely zero effort into determining what you’re getting back in exchange. It certainly sounds like lunacy, but people live their lives this way every day.

I see it constantly – people are consumed with their own performance at work, making sure they’re giving away huge amounts of time, effort, and juice, but then just sort of vaguely hoping that their efforts will be rewarded in a way they find satisfying. But never once do they actually tell anyone what a satisfying reward would be or what they want. They might not even know themselves.

It’s good to work hard, of course. It’s good to take pride in what you do and to put in effort to do it well. But that’s focusing on what you’re putting into the vending machine of life. You also have to focus on what you want to get out of it! Don’t fall into the trap of just working hard at working hard. Carefully consider what you actually want and put in the focused effort to actually get it.

Confusion

Confusion is so great! Think about it, what is being confused? It’s being surrounded by knowledge you don’t yet possess within your own framework of understanding. Could you imagine a better situation?

It isn’t lack of knowledge. It’s being bombarded by knowledge! If you watch a film in a language you don’t understand, you may be confused. But you’re also getting tons of information thrown at you! If you catch even 5% of it, you’ll learn so rapidly.

Being confused is like being thirsty in a lake. You’re surrounded by the thing you feel like you don’t have! When you change around that framework, you see the answer. Don’t close yourself off, as so many do when they feel confused. Open up! Drink deeply!