Change is in the air! Last Friday, we visited Mal for New Year’s Day. For fun, we each took a little quiz and from a list of ten items, identified what our most important priorities were in life. It’ll be neat when we revisit this topic this time next year! 😄
My top three: 1) Physical Health; 2) Wealth; 3) Interesting Hobbies.
Bagel’s top three: 1) Spiritual Enlightenment; 2) Career Success; 3) Traveling the World, Physical Health, and Interesting Hobbies. (She cheated and picked three for her third priority!)
Mal’s top three: 1) Soulmate Romance; 2) Contributing to Society; 3) Spiritual Enlightenment.
Last but not least: As I do every January, here are my goals for the new year, 2021:
My Goals for 2021
Better use the environment and my “flow-states” to my advantage. Know when I’m useless and need to just veg-out. Know when I need to exercise. Know when I need to visit the café or an external environment to get stuff done. When I need to call someone or just talk to another human-being for the sake of my own sanity to share an idea that’s about to burst, tease something out, or just ward off loneliness. Don’t “force it.” As Matthew McConaughey says: “Catch the greenlights.” Go with the flow! Everything should feel easy. If it feels hard, I’m doing something wrong. .
Be more focused. Set a schedule. When working, work. When playing, play. Don’t constantly be in a “middle-state” where I’m doing something half-ass. Middles are bad! Extremes are good! Either be “on” or “off.” Be rigid and inflexible. .
Keep a physical calendar and stick it on the fridge where Bagel and I can IRL see it and have it be top-of-mind every day. Take periodic small day-trips with Bagel (and friends, hopefully!) in order to “recharge.” A change of physical scenery is important and refreshes the mind! .
Money is (almost) everything. You attract the energies you put out in the world. In the past, I’ve always condescended money and thought it lowly and material. But after losing so much money in 2020 (thanks, stock market! And my own weak nerves!), I’ve now come around to a totally new position. Yes, health and love/relationships are important. But I’ve got those now! (Knock on wood.) So now we need to set the crosshairs on the next obstacle that’s really keeping me up at night: Financial security. Not just for myself but for Bagel too, who’s now really relying on me to figure things out. In 2021, I need to find a way to make tons and tons of money. Need that Tesla Cybertruck!! 🚘🚘🚘!!
Bagel’s Goals for 2021
Introspect to heal internal wounds and traumas.
Be honest with herself.
Focus more on establishing a solid base of friends and family; create a feeling of “home”!
Anyone who’s ever been in the trenches will agree: A healthy relationship is one in which both partners really get to know each other. And to this end, watching television shows and discussing them is the ultimate cheat code, especially if they are fictional (ie. not documentaries) as they’re vehicles of communication to facilitate this interaction. When you are in school, especially in a liberal arts class, it’s easy: The professor can pose some open-ended topic (eg. “What is Justice?”) and then you and your classmates can really go to down having those 2am bull-sessions that run ’til dawn, with everyone pontificating away on their pedestals.
This mode of interaction isn’t only training critical thinking, receive-and-respond, debate skills, gauging-of-social-currency, but is also allowing you a window into the lives of others. To really know the other is to know what and how they think. Their beliefs and value systems. But there needs to be a medium for this discussion.
So why TV shows? It’s easy and something people in a relationship can jointly do together. The joint experience is important– a communal and collective feeling of togetherness. Reading is great but it’s a solitary endeavor. Watching a television show can be done snuggled together on sofas and in front of laptops. You don’t even need televisions or cable nowadays.
For example, recently Bagel and I have been watching Mad Men and that show has really brought us so much closer. When I was younger, other than the Sorkin shows, I never really watched television shows because I was always haughty and felt them lowly. Yes, sometimes I’d indulge in a Spartacus or a Strike Back, but it was always when I was eating and wanted to burn through 10 or 15 minutes (and not watch YouTube).
But back when I was younger, I was single.
To be clear, Mad Men is definitely not a show I would ever watch on my own. It’s often uncomfortable and hard-to-watch. And definitely not a solo leisure activity.
But as a couple-activity, at least for us, it’s perfect. It’s characters are richly developed and Bagel and I both find the subject matter endlessly entertaining and educational. Neither of us were there for the 1960s. But all of the period details– the mores, music, fashion, gender/race dynamics, is fascinating. Matthew Weiner really deserves a Nobel for putting that work in the world! What a genius!
By virtue of being a fictional show, we’re also able to discuss its subject matter with fellow friends as well. And what I’ve found, anecdotally at least, is that the advantage here is that, broadly speaking, the temperature of conversation is much lower when you’re discussing something fictional and imaginary as opposed to a real-life event (say, Black Lives Matter). I’ve mostly found people more generally willing to engage with different perspectives and more empathic when it’s not real people’s lives on the line. We’re talking about Don, Peter, Peggy, Joan, Roger, etc. Figments of the imagination! And that distance gives everyone some remove and breathing space to entertain and debate ideas that they normally may not in a real-world setting.
Bagel and I are currently nearing the end of Season Five where a gruesome turn in the storyline has just occurred. Obviously, I won’t ruin anything here, but that incident has sparked so much discussion for us. Cultural differences and the pernicious effects (and pressure! Omg, the unimaginable pressure) of having to constantly maintain an image as opposed to just being authentic and genuine. How something small can slowly snowball into something catastrophic. The price of deception and how it slowly chips away at the soul.
For us, Mad Men is a springboard into discussion. It raises moral conundrums and presents a properly complex world with complicated characters. Even when we disagree with specific decisions that Peggy or Joan may have made, it’s easy to see “their sides” and empathize. More largely, this is honestly, I guess, a piece today about the merits of fiction as a vehicle for building empathy and understanding. The truth is we often don’t know our values, what we truly stand for, until we’re tested. And Real Talk for a moment: In real life, we (thankfully) aren’t often tested. In quotidian life, you’re virtually never dropped into these impossible situations of monumental consequence.
And to be fair– while talk is just talk, and we don’t really know how we’ll act until we’re actually in it— watching and discussing these subjects ahead of time at least sparks the conversation so it’s somewhere on your radar. How helpful, I guess, is up to you and how honest you are with yourself. My humble suggestion is simply to not think yourself so great, smart, noble, or moral. The higher the horse, the greater distance the tumble.
Again though, even if you are uninterested in “knowing thyself,” just being able to discuss these questions and topics with your SO is so worth it. We know and understand each other when we talk with each other. And with couples, after you’ve known each other for a good chunk of time, the constant fear is that both individuals eventually drift into their own isolated orbits. Especially if both of you are professionals in different career spaces. Taking trips together certainly helps. But on those long car drives and plane flights, you still need to talk about something material and substantive. It’s easy for relationships to calcify and lose that spark. Before long, you might feel like you’re a mechanic or a logistics officer simply negotiating supply chain details (“pick up the kids at X; dinner ready by Y; what are we getting the Millers for Christmas this year?”), etc. But your SO is not your fellow mechanic! She’s your SO!
Finally, on a parting note– watching and discussing fiction shows, especially one as good as Mad Men, possesses the additional benefit of giving us a barometer to track change over time. It’s interesting to both Bagel and me how both of our opinions about Don has evolved over the five seasons so far. And it’s enormously fascinating to me to track how Bagel’s opinions of certain situations has evolved. Ideally, we’ll revisit Mad Men again in a few years to have these same discussions, but just even in the month of watching so far, I’ve found her opinions rapidly change as she’s increasingly connected the events of the show–especially the office politics element– with her own work experience. One great example: Honest to God, for four seasons, we both could not understand for the life of us what Roger actually did at Sterling Cooper. But after Lee Jr. comes to visit for that Christmas party in S4, and then in S5, we’ve both turned into the most ardent Roger fans. In Bagel’s own work experience, she’s known as least one “Roger” whom she’d constantly complained about and despised. But being able to see “the story” from Roger’s perspective has really shed new light on a whole new POV that she’d never even considered. As I’d often told her– if her “Roger” had managed to stick around at the company for so long, there must have at least some value –in some way, shape, or form– that he was delivering, even if it was invisible to her (and the rest of rank-and-file storm troopers).
Anyway, those are my two cents for the day. In other news: 2021 is here! Hooray! 🎉🎆 Very excited about the New Year– blessings and good tidings to everyone! Let’s make this next year the best one yet! 😀
Ironically, we have never been more alone, disconnected, and isolated than we currently are in today’s technologically-sophisticated world. We’ve never had more fancy toys and modern miracles at our fingertips than we have today. But all of those wonders have increasingly led to an existence that is empty and devoid of meaning and purpose.
For eons, man has wandered the ends of earth wondering about his purpose. About the meaning of life. For whatever reason, we’ve overcomplicated and over-intellectualized. Today, on this grey Tuesday, let me —The Great Wobble— put an end to all your questions. I’ve got all the answers and today’s your lucky day. I’m going to answer the most profound question in all the cosmos today to you for the very low, bottom-basement price of: Free.
Man was made –maybe by the FSM, maybe not– to be happy. This is not exactly next-level insight. If we’re not doing it for happiness, then what else is it all for? You seriously want to live a life of drudgery every day so you can be miserable tomorrow? Really?
Ah, but what exactly is happiness? Gretchen Rubin and a legion of others have attempted to answer this question. But you don’t need some fancy book, university course, or YouTube video to tell you what you already know in your bones. Hell, you don’t even need to read this article! You know what happiness is. It’s an emotion. It’s the oxytocin and dopamine firing in your brain. It’s neurochemistry; it’s endorphins! This is why runners get that so-called “runner’s high.”
Now, to be sure, you don’t need physical exercise to be happy. (Though that’s certainly a way to get it!) You could take drugs (not advised) or drink alcohol (sometimes advised, depending on the context). But specifically, you need to hit your “happy button.”
This isn’t exactly rocket surgery– everyone’s got a different happy-button. Maybe it’s playing videogames or learning something new like Elixir or functional programming. Or maybe it’s restoring classical cars or making stop-motion Claymation videos.
The meaning and purpose of life is to feel good. Emotion is at the root of everything. If you feel you’re living a life of never-ending drudgery, stuck in some loveless marriage from hell, or trapped at the workplace from hell, or burdened by a thousand obligations that you resent and despise, tied down by a million expectations set upon you by some vengeful god, ask yourself: Who exactly is putting these expectations upon you?
Maybe you’re in Sing Sing and you need to mop those grimy restroom tiles against your will, resentfully. Okay, in that case, those expectations are set upon you by some prison guard (hopefully not of the Clancy Brown variety though). Other than that though, for the rest of everyone else, chances are more that you have trapped yourself in some unimaginable prison of a thousand hells.
Should such be the case, I sincerely hope you’ll wake up one day. Really wake up. My personal take, and this’ll vary from person-to-person of course, is that you don’t want to be too free. (I consider myself mostly libertarian so that’s a weird sentiment to utter aloud, I know.) But from past experience, too much “lightness” is honestly a curse of its own.
Instead, the best setup is a Goldilocks kinda of burden-carrying. Not too light where you’ll simply float away. But not too much where you feel the soul-crushing weight of a thousand suns. Just enough “heaviness” to give you a sense of responsibility and meaning. For me, I totally encourage obtaining a Bagel. For me, she’s been just the kick in the pants that I personally needed to get my act together. But maybe that’s just me. Please lemme know in the comments though any thoughts you may have. Am curious! 😀
Don Draper from the television show, Mad Men, has been on my mind a lot lately. This year because of COVID, Bagel and I have watched a good amount of television. Since January, we’ve ripped through The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Community (S1-6), When Calls the Heart (S1-2), Under the Dome (S1-2), and I also discovered and personally devoured all four seasons of Rick and Morty as well (Bagel dislikes cartoons so she sat that one out). Of all of the shows I’ve seen this year though, Mad Men is definitely the most thought-provoking. The show’s actually quite old; its first season released back in 2007. And while I remember at the time watching the first two or three episodes, I eventually lost interest and never continued. Thirteen years later though I think I’m finally now mature and old enough to appreciate Mad Men— this is probably one of the best television shows I’ve ever seen.
To be clear, this is still not a show that I’d probably watch on my own. Left to my own devices, I generally turn to television to be entertained. Fare like Rick and Morty and Community are right up my alley. But now I’ve met Bagel, my repertoire of appreciation has significantly expanded! On our evening walks, Bagel and I often like to discuss Mad Men and its different characters. While the show is fictional, it possess a fidelity to the 1960s that I’ve never seen in period television. In the past, I’ve watched (and tremendously enjoyed!) period pieces like Spartacus: Blood and Sand and The Tudors but let’s just say that “period authenticity” isn’t exactly the appeal of those particular Starz and Showtime cinematic masterpieces.
Mad Men fascinates me though precisely because is so real. I love all of its attention to period detail. The way people smoke and drank (and littered after picnics in the park!) back in the 1960s is insane! And since I obviously wasn’t around for the Cuban Missile Crisis or the prospect of nuclear annihilation, seeing people live during those periods have been hugely educational. And while there are tons of things I could discuss (and probably will in future posts), today I wanted to write about Don Draper. Specifically, what I’ve learned from him about what it means to be a man and a good husband.
I’ve always been proud of my own honesty and transparency. But what I learned from Don is that when you’re married, being a good husband does NOT mean telling your wife and family everything. In the past, I always foolishly believed that I should tell Bagel everything. For example: Our finances. Let’s just say this year has been a very rough ride. And there are times that when I’ve mentioned the specifics of our finances and budget to Bagel, it’s just needlessly stressed her out. If I lost a good chunk of money day-trading one day, it’s not like she had any way of helping to recover that money. She was helpless and this added information did nothing for her except ruin her day. I always thought I was being a good life-partner by telling her everything. But now I realize I was wrong.
On days when I’ve lost a ton of money and I’d tell Bagel about my poor results, she’d get super stressed out. But then a few days or weeks later, I’d often make back all of the money! And then I’d tell Bagel about my good days too. I had thought that we were a team and so I should share with her, my failures as well as my triumphs.
But I now see the tremendous error of my ways.
By sharing my daily ups and downs with Bagel, I was needlessly taking her on my rollercoaster ride. She often had trouble sleeping at night and poor appetite on days when I lost a ton of money day-trading. When I reflect on this year, I see all of that was entirely unnecessary.
What I learned from Don Draper is that when you are the man of the house, your wife (or S/O, life-partner, etc) doesn’t actually want to know everything. As the man, it is your duty to be the provider and primary caretaker. (Or if you’re a house-hubby and the wife is the one who works, then the same would go for her. Basically, I’m talking here about situations where one spouse works and the other stays at home as the homemaker.) If you are the primary provider of a single-income household, it is simply your duty to provide comfort and security to your S/O. You need to find a way to put food on the table and roof over your children’s heads. And that’s it. There is no need and no reason to share all of the gory details on how the sausage is made.
You don’t need to share every single financial detail with your S/O. Now, two caveats here: First– if your S/O specifically asks, then sure– you can tell him/her the details.
However, if they don’t ask, as the Main Provider of a single-income household, your job is to give your S/O a sense of stability and security. Absolutely, make a monthly budget and expect everyone to stick to it. But aside from that, there’s no need and no purpose to share daily details with your S/O. The second caveat is– sure, if things really go sideways, you should tell your life-partner. For example, Bagel and I have agreed that there is a certain number our household savings (that I day-trade with) should never fall below. And if I ever fall under that number then I should automatically tell her.
Aside from these two caveats, a good S/O should just exist to be your life-partner’s rock. Don Draper never shares any of his daily work shenanigans with Betty; he simply shoulders all of the troubles and burdens alone. That is his sole responsibility and duty as the Man of the House. Betty doesn’t care what Don does at Sterling Cooper; she just wants to be able to shop for groceries, take care of the kids, go horseback riding, hang out with and drink wine with friends, etc. When you get home from a hard day’s work, you leave it at the door. Your wife just wants a lovely husband, safety, and security. That is what it means to be a man.
Inventors are a breed of people whom I have long admired. There’s something enormously empowering about moving through the world, noticing that something is lacking, and then feeling confident and capable enough to think to oneself, “Huh. I can fix this.” And then proceeding to just fix it and reify your imagination into reality.
Years ago, in a different lifetime, my company once dispatched me to some conference in some great wild yonder. I don’t remember the details at all; like, I literally don’t even remember what the whole event was even about anymore. (Such is the hazy reliance of human memory, alas.) But I do remember one single memory: That morning I was sitting in the little dining area adjoined to the lobby, enjoying the hotel’s complimentary breakfast spread and leisurely perusing the morning’s paper. It was some local rag, the kind I always enjoyed flipping through whenever I traveled. There was a certain feeling of total voyeuristic locality that I always loved. Ha! Here’s what’s going on in town!I’m one of the people! And for whatever reason, a small article caught my eye: “Local man gets fed up and builds steps at town park on his own.” The exact wording of the headline escapes me now, but the gist of the writeup was that there was this sexagenarian who always strolled the town’s park every day. And the dirt walking path in the park apparently had an easement that was quite steep not easily navigable for older folks.
Well, for years, this sexagenarian –a war vet; or at least someone who had served, if I recall right– had bugged the local municipal government to build some steps on the easement. It was steep! Dangerous for old folk, especially! Well, for years, the town did nothing. So one day, at the crack of dawn before anyone was up and about, this old geezer just takes a bunch of wooden boards, a hammer, and a bucket of nails to the park and builds his own steps!
Of course, once the town learned about it, they sent engineers to tear the whole thing down (“not to code”), which I think everyone generally expected. (Governments can do great things. But often, they’re much more adept at impeding and destroying rather than building!) But it was the principle of the matter. That old dude tried to follow all of the right procedures, saw nothing was being done, and finally just did everything himself! Yeah!
This morning, I had my own bout of two-handed-can-do-attitude as well. My stupefying, unbridled genius was restless for a fresh, new challenge. Later this evening, Mal is coming over for “artistic-foreign-movie-night.” She and Bagel wanted to watch something and while I rooted for a Vin Diesel or The Rock vehicle, I was soundly rebuffed and summarily shot down. The only wrinkle in our planned endeavor though is that Mal is Chinese and her English isn’t the greatest. So I needed to obtain Chinese subtitles for whatever we’d be watching. Well, we ended up selecting Certified Copy which is a 2010 art film by the Iranian writer and director, Abbas Kiarostami. (Not exactly Michael Bay, but alas, I was outnumbered. ☹️)
Anyway, getting to the point: Certified Copy is a French movie and features significant spoken portions in French and Italian, in addition to English. So if we were gonna make this work, Bagel and I also needed English subtitles. We basically needed dual-track subtitles for this foreign film.
Dear Reader, let me assure you: I looked everywhere. Dual-subtitled video doesn’t exist for purchase or rent anywhere!
I tried Amazon Prime, Netflix, as well as our local library. And while our library had a Criterion Collection edition of Certified Copy, there was nothing that featured dual-track subtitles. Anyway, fast-forwarding to the end, by using VLC, Google, and sheer force of will and perseverance, after spending all morning on it, I figured everything out!
Mwhahaha! Sure, maybe not quite on the level of inventing the lightbulb or the printing press. But I’d like to think I channeled some of my inner-Edison and Guttenberg this morning. They’d be proud. 😀😄😁
Quitting the Rat Race is the American Dream. Over breakfast this morning, I had an interesting discussion with Bagel about entrepreneurship and working in America. As I’ve mentioned before, Bagel is not American– she hails from Bageltopia. And Bageltopians possess a significantly different cultural value system compared with Americans. For Bageltopians, the prime good in respectable society –the highest one can aspire to achieve– is to work at one of the Big Three companies in the country. I don’t know what the exact math works out to, but the Big Three in Bageltopia accounts for something like 50% of GDP, I bet. It’d be like the Google, Facebook, Apple of Silicon Valley (or Microsoft and Amazon of Seattle; or in a previous era– the GM, Ford, Chrysler of Detroit). Anyway, the entire corporate landscape in Bageltopia is dominated by these three companies and every year, new college graduates fall over themselves applying and trying to win prestigious admission via a very intense selection progress (a lot of standardized testing! Scantron bubble sheets!). While we certainly have more famous companies in America, I was telling Bagel that here in this country, in America, we much more admire and respect the small business owner or entrepreneur or artist.
Additionally, what’s really super-weird to me is that in Bageltopia, Bagel was telling me, society actually looks down on small business owners and artists. The thinking there is that the only reason one would work for themselves is only because you’re not able to find gainful employment with one of the big companies. Thus, self-employment, being an artist or small business owner, is actually a kind of scarlet letter and hot branding of failure and epic social shame of unthinkable and immeasurable magnitude. (You think I’m being hyperbolic but I’m really not! People really believe this in other parts of the world! I do not kid you!)
Obviously, this is only my opinion, but I feel in America, one of the quintessential dreams of making money is actually the opposite of joining a Big Famous Company. Sure, there are plenty of folks who aspire for those kinda sinecures. But even better than that is making your own company and working for yourself. To not have to report The Man every day and punch the clock. But to be The Man. In America, we all wish we could quit the Rat Race and escape the daily grind– not join it! The dream is to open a small auto shop or café around the corner and be constantly raking in the moolah even if you’re not on the job! Or write a book or Christmas song/jingle and then earn royalties on that work in perpetuity (ie. forever). You could be vacationing in Fiji or backpacking across the Andes and still have the money pouring in every month. To Americans, I feel this is our American Dream.
Spirituality is not often a locus of focus these modern days. Whereas it was front and center in Native American life and in ancient times, spirituality is nowadays much more relegated to third-class citizenry, if even that. To be sure, we’ve made such tremendous leaps and bounds in science and technology that much of the practical motivation has disappeared (no more rain dances to the weather gods necessary when you’ve got Monsanto, John Deere, GMO seeds, and GPS-guided tractors on the job) but putting that aside for a moment, it’s struck me as I’ve gotten older just how vacuous living daily life has become in spirituality’s absence.
Ask ten different people what spirituality is to them and you’ll receive at least eleven different answers. So I’ll just clarify what I mean when I discuss “spirituality.” To me, “spirituality stuff” is what you’ll find in the “New Age” religion section at any Barnes & Noble. It’s an attempt to explain (currently) unanswerable questions like, “What happens when you die?”; “How does Karma and resurrection work?”; and supernatural phenomena like visions, déjà vu, or lucid dreams. Often, these conversations will also involve phrases like “energy levels” and crystals/gem stones (very similar to the kind you’d find at Wall Drug). Meditation is also super-huge.
Honestly, I never knew anything about any of this but Bagel is really super into it. And thus, I’ve gotten really into it. I like it! To me, it’s extraordinarily arrogant to think that human beings, a species that doesn’t even fully understand gravity yet, can in good-faith “close the door” on all of the New Age spirituality stuff. Russell’s Teapot and Flying Spaghetti Monster are all in the realm of possibility, no matter how ludicrous they may at first sound. My general stance on all of this is thus: “Is it useful?” Once we leave mathematics and the hard sciences, it all just becomes unfalsifiable belief claims anyway. So why not believe what motivates and inspires you? The philosopher and founder of American Pragmatism, Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) calls it “experiential cash value” and I think he’d agree with me.
Neuroplasticity has been recently on mind. (You did almost get a post about “Nigel Farage” today though.) Namely, I’ve been thinking about aging and how as we get older, people seem to grow increasingly rigid in their thoughts and ways. From my limited understanding on what I’ve read, I believe the calcification happens because of our biology. Neurotransmitters, brain chemicals, all that. It’s sadly unavoidable, a fate destined for us all.
To combat the advent of such sadly inevitable dementia though, Bagel and I have been recently playing a game I (creatively) call, “The Grid Game.” We usually play it when we take our evening walks after dinner. The way it works: We alternate taking turns– like I start with ‘A’, she replies with ‘B’, etc. Everything must be done purely from mental recollection– no smartphones or Bing allowed! If one of us gets to the answer first (haha, usually me– but only because we’re playing in English! Bagel language would be a different story altogether) then we give each other hints like, “This is the first movie we saw in the cinema together.” Or– “My favorite song last summer! Played it in the car every time!” Stuff like that.
We initially conceived of the game as a way to help her improve her English. But I have since taken to playing it on my own time and with more specific categories (like “World Leaders,” “TV Shows,” and “Fictional Characters.”) It’s actually harder than you may think; remember, no smartphones! The other day, I got stuck on “Real woman’s name that starts with ‘I'” and after something like 20 minutes, the best I could come up with was “Laura Ingraham.” Not my proudest moment, I’ll confess. (For “Real man’s name that starts with ”I’,” my response was immediately, “Kazuo Ishiguro.”)
Anyway, I now keep a Google Doc open in one of my hundred tabs I have open and occasionally revisit it throughout the week. A coding exercise I’ll probably eventually do (gotta put all the data science I’ve learned to work!) is build a “Diversity Score Calculator” to analyze submissions and then break them down by sex/race/age/genre. I’m still kicking around some ideas but I think it’s an interesting exercise to judge your own implicit bias. When you free-associate, do you most often think of white people? Black people? Men or women? American, European, Hispanic, Asian? Contemporary or historical figures? Artists or politicians? Other? If political figures appear, are they most often right or left, conservative or liberal? For artistic works, summer blockbusters and platinum hits or the classics? Breakdowns like that. Anyway, just my random idea for the day. So much to do and so little time!
PS. For anyone who’s interested, you can make a copy of the template here. And also, here is my own personal August 2020 entry. Again, the idea is to just free-associate and complete the sheet as fast as possible. Like, a good time would be 10-15 minutes. Don’t worry about “appearing PC” or cosmopolitan and worldly. No one’s gonna see your answers! Just be yourself. You might be intrigued with the results.
Emoji Dick. Man, I don’t even know where to start with this. On one hand, it is certainly a grand testament to the power of human imagination and the aggregate efforts of crowdsourcing. Together, there is no obstacle too great, including Herman Melville, that we cannot surmount and overcome. On the other hand, it is rare I discover something I so genuinely, sincerely consider useless. Generally, I pride myself as an open-minded individual. I consider it a strength that I can usually find merit in just about any project, human, or argument.
But good lord. Emoji Dick– this one I really needed to stretch for– it’s a real reach.
I first discovered Emoji Dick on the a16z podcast hosted by Sonal Chokshi. (For what it’s worth, by the way, Chokshi is excellent. I curate my podcast playlist very carefully and have listened to many voices over the years. The way she thinks about “insight per minute” and information density is the absolute best. I really love listening to her interview and show run the a16z podcast.)
Anyway, emojis were something I had for the longest time never cared for. I’d considered them childish and was enormously snobbish about them. I consider myself “grammatically proper” and refuse to shop anywhere that doesn’t use “ten items or fewer” for its express checkout queue. So much to my surprise, there’s an entire hidden political war in the world of emojis. For example, as Chokshi raised in the episode– does Taiwan get an emoji flag? For China, that was a no-go and would have huge implications on the Unicode standard (for in which there is a Unicode Emoji Subcommittee). And were there sexist implications of the “woman emoji with bunny ears?” And how would each vendor (Microsoft, Google, Apple, LG, Samsung, etc) choose to implement those Unicode emoji standards on their own platforms? It was a fraught and twisted web.
So fast forward to now and I’m wholly onboard. The emoji ship has sailed. I’ve decided to take life much less seriously (especially after meeting Bagel). We only live this lifetime once… might as well use some emojis. 🚢👋🍰🚀
Creating something new is always the easy part. It’s actually finishing the damned thing that is the challenge. I am especially guilty of this– enormously prone to begin half-a-dozen projects (day-trading, writing, data science) and finish/continue none of them. I’m not proud of it and this morning I’m going to take some time figuring out how to do better.
The root problem really isn’t difficult to grasp; put succinctly: I lack discipline. It’s natural to possess enormous enthusiasm at the beginning. A new idea or flight or fancy strikes you. And you’re off to the races, not sleeping or eating until you’ve finally If you examine my GitHub commit history, you’ll see that on most projects, the early days is when all of my commits happen. But then the weeks pass and that initial optimism wanes. Why?
Part of the problem is I’m drawn to novel challenges. When I examine my GitHub commit history, I see the times when I get a second wind on a long-gestating project is when I encounter a new technical challenge that requires new learning. For example, I recently received a new requirement for which I needed to learn BITFIELD and Sever-Sent Events. New stuff! Fun times! I was back to the races.
Instead of entirely being powered by novelty and love of learning and knowledge, the answer to my lack of discipline is fear, which I have found to be a particularly inspiring motivator. In particular: Bagel’s Wrath.
Over the years we’ve been together, she’s come to absolutely hate my undisciplined nature. She hates that I begin and never finish things and my very American, very accepting attitude of, “Fail fast and often; there is no shame!” She comes from a very different, “completest culture” that is very shame-driven. And so she’s developed a habit of randomly bursting into my man-cave to check up on me. If I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do (eg. programming), she will harangue me for about fifteen minutes and then whack me with an 18-inch long summer sausage that we keep in the refrigerator. The sausage is hard and cold; it hurts.
Of course, I’m still prone to distraction– like writing this blog post. But because of the Bagel Panopticon, I’m only allowed to indulge in my distractions when she’s either away at yoga class, shopping, or sleeping. So it’s really only under the cover of dark that I’m able to write these posts. The Eye of Bagel Sauron sleeps, but only barely.
Personally, I dislike Kahlo’s art (it’s too dark, depressing, and morbid for my tastes). Bagel really connects with it though. I’m much more a fan of Rivera’s mural art– the work he did at 30 Rockefeller (that sadly never saw the light of day) and in Detroit speak to me much more. I don’t know what it is exactly, but to me when I see Rivera’s murals, it instills a sense of hope and wonder. A sense of progress. Human civilization and grandeur of history. In the epic sweep of time, we may all be little more than dust. But by golly, in this short time humanity’s around, we’re gonna galumph! To hell or high water.
In addition to Rivera’s art, my favorite part of Frida was seeing their housing setup in Mexico City! Good lord, it’s ingenious: Kahlo and Rivera essentially lived in their own buildings, connected by a sky bridge:
What a great idea! Rivera lived in the red house while Kahlo lived in the blue one. I’ve already discussed with Bagel and once we make enough money one day, we’re definitely going to recreate this setup! Brilliant!
S1E2 — “The Dog Empire Episode” is when I knew I was watching something special. But this scene, “Rick’s Sacrifice” from S2E1, is legendary.
On my own, I don’t watch much TV these days. If anything, I’ll watch clips of things from YouTube and I do try to set aside time with Bagel every day to watch 22 minutes of a sitcom. But left to my own devices, sitting down and watching anything from start-to-finish nowadays is genuinely a pretty heavy lift for me.
But a few months ago, I discovered Ricky and Morty— and this one, this, I made time to sit and watch. I binged all four seasons, an episode a day. Within a month, I’d watched every episode.
I find Ricky and Morty compelling for mainly two reasons: First, it’s novel (to me, at least) in the sense that it’s a cartoon that’s chiefly nihilistic. I give Justin Roiland a ton of credit (along with Dan Harmon). I don’t know exactly who is contributing what, but when I watch R&M, I get the impression that it’s created by people who have suffered severe depression, have given deep and enduring thought to The Big Questions about life, purpose, and the meaning of everything– and basically have come out on the other side of that chasm as a survivor. “Nothing intrinsically means anything. But whatever. Let’s go watch TV.” is one of R&M’s life lessons. From my perch in this, oh-so-long life I’ve so fruitfully led, I think that sentiment is pretty much spot-on.
Second– any show, book, comic, or cartoon that deals with time, parallel universes, and the Multiverse (eg. Jet Li’s The One or Steins;Gate), I’m instantaneously hooked. Seriously, I live for that stuff.
Recently, Bagel and I finished the entire six-season, 111-episode run of Community. I’d watched the first several seasons between 2009-2015 when the show first aired but had fallen off the wagon at some point. It was nice to return and finish the show properly.
If I had to pick one aspect I enjoyed most about the show, it’d be the show’s irreverence. Of all of the cast, my favorite person was definitely Pierce. (Though I also love Hickey, losing Pierce was truly devastating.) I know Harmon gets a lot of criticism (at least from the little I’ve read online) but I do believe the man’s a genius. Between Community and Ricky & Morty, the ideas and writing are just undeniably excellent. In Community, Pierce is outright racist and misogynist. And not in an ironic way either. But in a genuine, the person actually is racist and misogynist. But still to be able to make him a sympathetic and likable character (at least I thought so) was an extraordinary feat.
To be fair, there are definitely more than several episodes that went over my head. Being the meta-show it is, if you weren’t familiar with the underlying “formula” that a particular episode was parodying or paying tribute to, then you wouldn’t get the many inside-jokes, nods/homages, and references. Bagel didn’t like the first two seasons because they consisted of mostly talking. She really started enjoying Community in S3 and S4 when the show, in her words, “got more high budget.” (Eg. We got to venture outside of Greendale and see individual people’s apartments and houses.)
This may sound outrageous, but I humbly contend that I have never made a mistake.
Now sure– if you were to ask my dear wife, Bagel, she’d disagree with you with the force of a thousand suns. But honestly– sincerely speaking, I genuinely feel like I’ve never made a mistake.
First, what is a mistake? Now, I know this seems somewhat rhetorical/pedagogical/didactic/pretentious/eye-rolling. But bear with me a moment. I do feel this definition is really important to precisely nail down.
If you make a decision with the most knowledge and information you have at that moment, then I argue you’ve done the very best you possibly can, regardless of whatever outcome results. Even if you are ultimately in error, I would argue –in good faith– that you didn’t make a mistake.
After we moved in together, living life with Bagel the first year was a bonafide project. In the beginning, we sectioned off duties such that she was responsible for anything related to the kitchen (cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping). And I was responsible for paying the bills. But after a few months, that plan quickly imploded. She deeply resented having to do all of the domestic chores and wished to work as a career-woman instead. And on my end, frankly, I would be positively thrilled to be a “house husband.”
Ultimately, the solution we devised is that she handles all of the cooking (which she genuinely enjoys). And I do all of the cleaning (loading and unloading the dishwasher and vacuuming; each of us does our own laundry). Over time I’ve actually really come to appreciate this division of labor because I love listening to podcasts! I own a pair of nice wireless, noise-cancelling headphones so dishwasher/vacuum time is when I listen to all of my podcasts. With Tim Ferriss, Shane Parrish, NPR, and Paul Ford in my ear, I get my daily podcast dose in (at 1.25x speed, which is key) while making Bagel happy. Win-win, all around! Since I no longer have long commutes any more, my podcast-listening had heavily declined.
What I realize now is that in the past, I heavily relied on interstitial spaces to complete “micro-tasks.” When I was on the subway platform waiting for the metro to arrive, that’s when I’d dash off a quick reply to a text message or email. When I was riding public transit or commuting, that’s when I’d listen to Sam Harris or Ezra Klein.
Now all that has disappeared, figuring out a life routine that still gives me “dedicated inertial time” has become paramount. Otherwise, I fall off the wagon replying to text messages!
This morning, I listened to Tim Ferriss
interview Tyler Cowen on his podcast.
Cowen detailed at great length how he cultivated a daily writing
habit. The key was writing each day, no
matter what. I know I seem to do this on
an annual basis, but I’m going to give it a shot! My humble goal shall be to hit 500 words in
each post. The topic will range widely
and cover just about anything I happen to be contemplating that day.
On my mind this afternoon:
I have been recently enormously glad that Bagel has taken on a new
hobby! Thank God. Having been in the country for nearly three
months now, she was beginning to grow restless.
And despite my best efforts (taking her antique hunting, going out on
walks, scraping together enough money to eat out more often, visiting art museums),
she was beginning to grow increasingly moody and irritable. All the gauges on my dashboard were in the
red– it was the danger
Luckily, The Universe intervened!
By some miraculous stroke of dumb luck, Bagel has recently found a new hobby in becoming an eBay reseller! The detailed intricacies escape me, but from what little I’ve gathered, she essentially buys some item that she can obtains cheaply either in the FB Marketplace, our local goodwill store, or elsewhere; restores it; and the resells it online on eBay. For whatever reason, this has captured her imagination and given her a new lease on life! Before she was really struggling to self-study for the TOEFL exam and it was definitely not going well. (By my observation, marshalling her energies to summon the mere will to study appeared to usually take an entire morning. And then by the time she cracked open the book, it was usually already afternoon. And then after an hour or so of study, she’d then usually go lounge on the sofa and watch Netflix or YouTube. I think the study-hours to rest-hours ratio was something like 2:1.)
Anyway, for whatever reason, reselling items on eBay has
captured Bagel’s imagination and passion.
And I am infinitely grateful for the development! Now that the new hobby keeps her occupied for
many hours of the day, that frees me up to actually work on my day-trading bot
which had been languishing.
The takeaway lesson here is that if you are in a
relationship, it absolutely paramount for you to find a hobby that will
sufficiently occupy your Bagel’s time, energy, and attention. It is important that everyone possesses their
own hobbies and passion projects. I’ve
personally never struggled at all with being bored or unfulfilled. But I think that’s largely due to the fact
I’m in STEM, and specifically– I know how to program. I can code my own apps and relatively easily
build entire worlds and systems. I’m not
an artist but I suspected painters or musicians are blessed with a similar
freedom and agency.
For everyone else out there, the act of creation is a little
more difficult. If you’re not naturally
interested/gifted in writing, drawing, composing, coding, or in some other
creative endeavor, I suspect the burden of living becomes all that much steeper
of a slog; something akin to scaling K1.
I’ve discussed this with Gwen a lot and we both agree that this is why
most people end up having children– it gives them a project to jointly work on
so they can continue to hold their marriage together. I strongly suspect one major reason people
have children is that when they’ve exhausted their individual dreams and
passions (or have accepted resignation and defeat that they will never reach
them), raising children is one of life’s great consolation prizes.
After I met Bagel, it was definitely like finding another gear. I keep a few photos of us on my desk. And it always helps when I’m in my weaker moments, when it’s late at night and I’m feeling tired, sick, or frustrated, I’ll look over at us to remind me that we’re worth it. And so I’ll write another few hundred words or two. Granted, they’re not always the best words of the day, but the point is that, for me at least, external motivation has made all the difference. I do consider myself a pretty disciplined, determined person. But, man, writing a novel is a whole other beast. It’s mostly the incredibly distant time horizon that makes the project so difficult. I mean, when you’re a student, you kinda get used to cramming the night before in the library or pulling the all-nighter to finish the paper, right? And even when I was working at the bank, we were still delivering software projects in well-defined two/four/six-week sprints. There was constant feedback every step of the way, your team that you were meeting daily with to make any course corrections necessary, and a consistent sense of progress. Even if it wasn’t always exact, there was still (usually) a forward sense of momentum and progress.
But writing is a multi-month (maybe even multi-year?) process? This is a campaign of an entirely different stripe. And it’s one without as finely defined, well-understood goals and milestones. For every successful Normandy invasion, you may also get a Waterloo or a Gettysburg. Sometimes you spend years building the Atlantic Wall or Maginot Line and it, well, just doesn’t quite do what you expected.
Additionally, with novel-writing, the formative initial “requirements gathering phase” is a little different. There’s a discovery process that’s actually more like the beginning of a data science project or trying to QED a math proof; initially you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for. But you have some ideas of what might work. And so you poke around to see if any of your pet theories have legs. And then the entire project starts to (slowly) crystallize and firm up and you mold the beast as best as you can.
Obviously, along the way there’ll be dead-ends. And there’ll be days when you take one step forward but two steps backwards. But if you just keep laboring away, every day in the salt mines, it will slowly start to come together. I can’t remember who said this but I remember once hearing on a Fresh Air podcast an interview with a famous writer and she painted the analogy: “It’s like driving up a foggy, pitch-black mountain. Your head-beams only allow you to see a few meters ahead of you at any given time. But it’s enough. Slowly, but surely, you’ll make it to the top. That’s what writing a book is like.”
Or, similarly apropos, writing’s a lot like having
faith: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see
the whole staircase.”
–Martin Luther King Jr.
Last weekend I was having dinner with Alex and we got to talking about relationships. I’ve been together with Bagel now for a little over two years and Alex, who’s known me for a good long while, was frankly flabbergasted and mind-boggled that I’d sustained this relationship with Bagel for as long as I have. To be fair, if I’m being completely honest, I’m somewhat amazed too. Anyway, Alex suggested that I write up what I’d described to her. Haha, she even suggested that I write a “relationship book” one day! While I don’t think that’s ever going to happen, I still needed to complete my long-form writing for this week. So here we go.
First, some background.
As with many things, I think’s useful to understand whence this story starts in order to better appreciate where it is now.
When I was a (much) younger man, and I can say this now with the full benefit of 20/20 hindsight, but it is fair to say that I lacked a fair amount of social grace. I was selfish and arrogant. And looking back now, I realize I was quite insufferable. It’s actually a small wonder that I possessed any friends at all. Emboldened by having achieved a modicum of success early in life, that’d given me an inflated sense of self. I remember studying very hard through my high school and college years, not even bothering with dating or paying an iota of interest to girls or relationships. In my own mind, I was too busy for all of that. While other kids partied and went out to have fun, I was always in my room or at the library studying. While they went to Prom or Homecoming, I was inside hitting the books telling myself that, “one day, all those morons will be pumping my gas” while I, in my elaborate imagination, worked tirelessly towards a life of riches and luxury.
Bagel and I have spoken at length about my responsibilities if I am to stay at home and become a “house hubby.” She has it in her mind that she wishes to be a strong, independent, career woman who is the family breadwinner and brings home the bacon. It should be noted that I am several years older than Bagel and in a previous life, I spent six long years in Corporate America. I possess not an iota of desire to return to the Dilbert-style cubicle farm. In fact, it was working in Dilbertville those long, grueling, interminable hours and years which led to my first ER-hospitalization and my current health issues. So I’ve told her repeatedly and have encouraged her at every opportunity: Bagel, if you wish to embark upon a life of early-morning conference calls, inner-office politics, and sitting inside in front of a computer for 10, 12, or even 14 hours a day, you are welcome to be my guest. I will dutifully and joyously support you every step of the way!
I will cook, grocery shop, and wash the dishes! I’ll clean, tidy, vacuum, and do the laundry! If one day we have kids, I’ll gladly change diapers and feed them Gerber’s baby formula so they don’t die. I will be the best house hubby the world has ever seen. Granted, I’ve never been a parent before. But I’ve seen first-hand the horrors of office life and there’s no way, in this lifetime or the next, that you can convince me that bending over to put Moana into the DVD player to entertain the little ones for the eleventh-hundredth time is somehow possibly more difficult than the soul-crushing, spirit-defeating office work that I did back in my bank days. Than being tethered, 24/7, to my office Blackberry that was my ball and chain. No way.