Sketching Your Life

Paralysis. You want to do something right, because you think you’ve only got one chance to do it.

I love writing letters. Real, stamped and posted letters appeal to me on many levels. They’re important to me, to send and to receive. I have one I’ve been meaning to write, but it’s been longer since I wrote a letter than it has since I wrote blog posts. If getting back to blogging has been hard, and I take letter writing more seriously, and it’s been this long… paralysis.

The letter was supposed to accompany food. Eventually I ate the food, because I had avoided writing the letter for so long.

If this letter isn’t good, will I ever get a chance to write another letter? For some reason, my brain lies to me and says, no, you will not get another chance to write a letter.

We all do this, in many different parts of our lives. We think the next thing we do is the last and most critical thing, and we paralyze ourselves trying to make it good.

Most of us don’t draw, because what if that next drawing sucks? It’s gonna suuuuuck for sure! And then we’ll never get to draw again.

We go to job interviews, and we stress about them going to go poorly, as if there aren’t going to be any more interviews ever again.

I know grown-ass men who are still afraid to tell a girl/boy that they like that girl/boy. As if they only get one chance to say it. As if there wouldn’t be another girl/boy in the future.

But there’s always going to be another! In fact, as you age, you will find that people bounce in and out of your life repeatedly, and that you re-evaluate people, and they re-evaluate you. You meet new people and you always will. You lose old friends and sometimes regain them.

There’s another job interview in the next few weeks, and there will be interview after interview after interview after interview until one goes well and you get hired. Everyone who is good at drawing got there by drawing another and another and another…

Everything is a sketch, and you already know you do some of your best, most inspired work when you stop taking things so seriously and just sketch the next moment.

I know you know what I’m trying to say. I’m not saying it well. I’ve got to find a way to break down this wall of understanding.

Or do I? No, I don’t! Day seven of blog posting is just the seventh out of hundreds I’ll write in the next decade. So, I’ll get another crack at making this argument.

Seven out of seven. Keep trying.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a letter to sketch.


Scenes from a Multiverse

Seed Diversity in Humans

This one is for Rose Thomas.

Also, this one is gonna be a very rough sketch. It’s too important a topic for me to leave in such bad shape, so I’m going to try a new experiment: what you’re reading is a draft, and I’m going to come back and revisit this essay, hopefully several times, hopefully with more refined thoughts in the future. If you folks want to help refine my thoughts through discussion, I would love to discuss this stuff.

I had lunch with my favorite former boss today. We talked about managing the news. In my work, we like to blame results on algorithms, claiming that they’re neutral to human decisions. My old boss was quick to point out the idea that every algorithmic decision is actually an editorial decision, and that a lot of my job, which is ostensibly neutral, is not and cannot possibly be neutral. Every day, when I choose the ways I work with the news data, I’m implicitly choosing how the news data should look. It can’t be escaped.

We were also talking about the unhealthiness of news reading in general. We’re both addicted to news and we both recognize it to be like cigarettes, but he was adamant that I was doing a goodish thing working in this space.

Anyway, that’s all mulch for the main topic of the post.

We were talking about siloing people, either by political inclination, or by interest. What if people want to only see conservative or liberal news? What if they want to mostly see celebrity news, or no politics, or no sports? Isn’t it an editorial decision, he asked, to force users to read a diverse sample of things?

It definitely is.

Of course, I see that there are a lot of problems in the world, right now, which come from people being shown news that fits their political inclinations and reinforces their political and cultural beliefs. There’s not a lot of upside, in my mind, to showing people only the politics they want to see.

It’s more complicated to say whether it’s good or bad to show people things that suit their specific interests. Say some people want to ignore politics and only read sports news. I see some of the same problems here, but less so. People being shown different realities in the political space will inevitably clash, because they’re competing for control and sharing power. People with different interests entirely (politics versus sports versus celebrities) are so different that they could maybe just ignore each other. I also see some health benefits to siloing by interest; a person who pays less attention to politics is in general a more well adjusted and happier person.

Ultimately, I can’t decide if it’s good or bad for you, an individual, to be siloed… but honestly, I don’t care. What I care about is the aggregate, statistical level. I care very much that 80% of people care about politics, and 20% don’t. That’s what matters to me.

Without the 80% who care, many important fights will be de-facto settled by special interests, and probably not to the benefit of humanity at large. So the 80% are necessary to ensure that various fights go well for everyone.

But for each big fight, someday, that fight will be over. Someday, gay rights will be a given, and opposing them will be as unpopular as racism. At that time, we will need the minority, the 20% who never really invested in the fight, to teach us how to let go of it.

I’ve come to realize that I’m going to be fighting against organized religion for my entire life. I have tried to hide from this, but religion has hurt me too much, and the fight matters too much to me. So, despite my not really liking it, I will always grapple with organized religion and the religious.

But I have an atheist friend for whom this is all irrelevant. Not like the rest of you, not like the rest of us. He’s not recovering from religion. He’s not culturally aware of religion in his bones. It was just totally irrelevant to him for his entire childhood. His wife likes to say he doesn’t even realize how it bothers the rest of us.

If I parody a religious song, there’s some antipathy in what I’m doing. It’s a dig back at some people who hurt me in the past. If he does it, it’s innocent, about the same as parodying ancient greek culture. It’s empty and unthreatening to him.

I will never have that, but I wish I could. I hope my grandchildren are like that.

This leads me back to an older, more general thought: I want seed diversity in human ideas. There’s not a single idea I can think of that I would crush from the mind of mankind. Not one. Not the nazis, even. I have a blanket belief that, beyond my ability to decide individual good and bad ideas, the whole messy lot of them bouncing off each other leads us to create many good things.

Passing Time at Red Lights

You probably spend some time waiting at red lights. You probably don’t enjoy it.

Here are two strategies for passing time at red lights. They work for me; maybe they’ll work for you.

– Count the people passing through the light in the other direction. Each one that passes is having a better, faster day because you’re making the sacrifice of waiting for a moment. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen… that’s seventeen people who are having a better day because you gave up a little of your time.

– If you have a car, get yourself some cheap drum sticks. Seriously, they’re on Amazon for cheap. Put them in the car, and use them to drum on the steering wheel at red lights. Play loud music and just wail on the steering wheel. I’ve found you can do this for years without damaging the wheel. It’s fun, so much fun that you may find yourself hoping the green lights turn yellow.

Grief and Duality

/me is listening to Fever Ray – Seven.

A friend recently told me he doesn’t remember a lot of his college experience, because the breakup which followed it made a lot of memories unpleasant to process or revisit. I’ve been determined not to have a similar thing happen for my recent relationship experience. I’ve made sure to allow some time to remember what I had, especially the good parts, and to mention bits of it in relevant conversations.

What I think I’ll lose anyway is identification with those memories. When I was in the relationship, I was very strongly favoring a particular part of my personality, letting it run dominant over the other parts. Now that I’m alone again, I’ve eased back into a balance, but it makes the grieving process seem very strange to me.

A lot of the time, when the other parts of me are active, my grief seems external, and is alien to me. It’s not unpleasant. In fact, it’s very manageable. Just alien. My memories feel a little bit like the memories of another person.

Other times, when the part of me that was so strong in the relationship is active, my grief is immediate and total. I feel very strongly like it all happened yesterday. I have to survive these periods, but I always survive by accepting that it’s done. So even in this part of me, I’m more or less actively rejecting identification with my past self.

I know there are lots of other people who experience duality in their personalities. I have often wondered how (or if) they integrate things like these.

Any ideas? Similar experience?