Memories

I signed up for a service that takes all my notes and send them back to me in little tidbits everyday. Sometimes it’s months before I reread one of my journals. I go through my kindle notes more often but still not often enough so it’s pleasant and useful to be reminded of clips like this one:

We do not remember everything that happens to us; we select only highlights. (If we didn’t forget, our minds could not work efficiently, because they would be cluttered with mental junk—the temperature last Wednesday, a boring conversation on the bus, every phone number we ever dialed.) Moreover, recovering a memory is not at all like retrieving a file or playing a tape; it is like watching a few unconnected frames of a film and then figuring out what the rest of the scene must have been like. We may reproduce poetry, jokes, and other kinds of information by rote, but when we remember complex information, we shape it to fit it into a story line.
Mistakes Were Made by Caroll Tavris, Elliot Aronson

If you’re interested the service is https://readwise.io

Finding your purpose and living a meaningful life

Hunter S. Thompson letter of advice to his friend Hume.
I find myself going back to this letter ever so often whenever I feel a bit lost. It’s surprising that someone who was in his early twenties could write something so profound. Highlights by me.

April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City

Dear Hume,

You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal— to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.

I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles … ” (Shakespeare)

And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect— between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer— and, in a sense, the tragedy of life— is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre. These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors— but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires— including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life— the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN— and here is the essence of all I’ve said— you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know— is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo— this merely happens to be mine.

If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that— no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,

your friend,
Hunter

To have love, work, and friends

Found this through Austin Kleon’s email newsletter.

Is it too greedy to want to have all three? And to have all three to a high degree? I’m not sure I agree that we have to pick two. I haven’t put much thought into it but I do have examples in my life that seems to have managed to achieve all three.

Maybe it’s more difficult to have all three than it is two. By a factor that is multiple times that of moving from one to two. And so the conclusion is easily drawn that we must pick two, but never three.  Reminds me of this saying of products and services that says of the qualities fast, good, and cheap, you can only pick two. So if a product is fast and of good quality, it will not be cheap. If it is of good quality and is cheap, then it will not be fast. If it is cheap, then you have to choose between good quality or fast service/delivery.

The anecdotes do sound convincing but what if Michelangelo wasn’t interested in parties or Homer just wasn’t into romantic relationships? Also, correlation does not equal causation.

 

Don’t waste time to save a few dollars

Saw this on twitter today:

I want to add don’t waste time to make a few bucks also. I had a recent experience that made me think how important this is.

A friend of mine got the opportunity to take on a quick web project last weekend. The thing is, the project is a little over his head in terms of his current skillset. He needs the money though so he
says yes to the project. He spends the next few day including the entire weekend, multiple sleepless nights learning and building out the project. Also, the client does not have all the information for the project ready but still wants it by x date. So now my friend is stressing about delivering on time meanwhile spending entire nights awake to the point where his body is shaky from exhaustion. But he needs to get paid so he continues. There’s more. While he’s stressing about this job he has other jobs too so after this job is finished he’ll have to spend more sleepless nights catching up on those.

The crazy thing is if he wasn’t so focused on making a few bucks he could have found a better way. He could have easily hired out the work to someone who could do it in a day for a fraction of the total budget. He would make a bit less money but what he would have earned would be at minimum five times his normal hourly rate. Considering the hours he spent on this project he ended up earning maybe half of his hourly rate. He made more money taking on the job but the few extra bucks he made came at a high cost. He could have spent the weekend chilling with his partner, prospecting for new clients, resting and so many things that are way more valuable than those few bucks.

On another note there’s also this. You get what you tolerate and you’ll get more of it. As it relates to freelancing when you let a client know you’ve just done a full weekend with sleepless nights to do a ‘urgent’ project you can be sure they’ll expect that again in the future. And the other clients that that client recommend to you will expect that as well. The more you tolerate unreasonable requests the more unreasonable requests you will get.

What are your guiding principles?

A gentleman asked me yesterday “What are your guiding principle? What guides your decisions?” Then this morning I woke up to this being the next page of the Daily Stoic book I’m currently reading:


Character is a powerful defense in a world that would love to be able to seduce you, buy you, tempt you, and change you. If you know what you believe and why you believe it, you’ll avoid poisonous relationships, toxic jobs, fair-weather friends, and any number of ills that afflict people who haven’t thought through their deepest concerns. That’s your education. That’s why you do this work.

I got caught a bit off guard with that question but I could immediately think of two things:

  1. Will my decision or action cause injury to others and
  2. Am I being true to myself

I must admit though that often I fail in the second but I’m getting better at it. It helps that whenever I fail it usually comes back to bite me in the ass down the road. A good dose of negative re-enforcement. I don’t think those two items are sufficient to call them my only guiding principles. I think I do need to at least create a set of principles to measure my decisions again. See how they serve me and tweak as necessary.

What is good? What is bad?

There’s this story of the Chinese farmer that illustrates why it is probably not the best to think in terms of good or bad. Here’s the story told by Allan Watts and illustrated Steve Agnus for Sustainable human:

 

I’ve been thinking lately about perceptions. About how relative thinks like morals are and how differently different people even within the same culture will consider a thing to be good or bad. This has brought me to reflect on Marcus Aurelius’s journal entry “that all is as thinking makes it so – and you control your thinking. So remove your judgement whenever you wish and then there is calm – as the sailor rounding the cape finds smooth water and the welcome of a waveless bay”. Easier said than done.

It’s interesting but not surprising that this idea of removing judgements pops up in stoicism, zen Buddhism, and modern day behavioral therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy might have had some roots in stoicism but zen Buddhism grew this similar philosophy on their own. It makes me think any movement that sets out to improve ones mental well being, serenity and happiness will at some point happen up on this universal truth. And then there is the expression “It is what it is”. An expression that often comes when you cant decide whether something is good or bad. So your mind goes to the default — It is what it is. As Alan watts says:

The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad — because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.

and just to share another stoic’s take on this matter here’s Epictetus:

What disturbs men’s minds is not events but their judgements on events: For instance, death is nothing dreadful, or else Socrates would have thought it so. No, the only dreadful thing about it is men’s judgement that it is dreadful. And so when we are hindered, or disturbed, or distressed, let us never lay the blame on others, but on ourselves, that is, on our own judgements. To accuse others for one’s own misfortunes is a sign of want of education; to accuse oneself shows that one’s education has begun; to accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one’s education is complete.

I feel like I should qualify this post by saying that not thinking of events in terms of good or bad does not mean not having feelings about said events. In the example Epictetus used he refers to someone dieing. I don’t think one should be emotionless where you don’t cry for a loved one. I don’t think one should not see it for what it is though — another event that boils down to “it is what it is”. Cry and mourn and feel the hurt. But when you’re done doing that move on.

How Doctor Who, the series, became a self sustaining living thing much like it’s protagonist

From JMR Higgs in the book KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money:

When the current Doctor Who writers claim that they only became writers because of Doctor Who, they usually credit the series of novels which Whitaker started and which young boys devoured during the 1970s. There is another explanation, however, which comes from the very format of the programme. In the original series, episodes built towards a climax and ended on a cliff hanger in which the Doctor or his friends appeared to be in inescapable danger. Of course, the children watching knew that the Doctor would somehow survive. He always did. The question, then was not would he escape, but how? What could possibly happen to get the Doctor out of that situation? There would be much debate about this in school playgrounds after each episode. And as the kids thought about the problem, their imaginations were being stoked. They were thinking like writers. Indeed, they were trying to write the next episode themselves. What we have here, then, is character of fiction, neither created nor ‘owned’ by any one imagination, who is actively creating the very environment – writers’ minds – that it needs to survive into the future. Not only is Doctor Who a fictitious character that acts like a living thing by constantly evolving and surviving, it is also a self-sustaining living thing that creates the one thing that it needs to survive. From an evolutionary point of view, that’s impressive.

It’s hard to think that the creators of doctor who thought this far ahead of the show they co-created. It goes to show that when you give birth to an idea that idea will live outside of yourself in the real world. It can become so much more than anything you imagine.

These things I know for sure

This list of 16 truths is said to be written by Andrea Zittel. I can’t find the original source but if you do please let me know so I can attribute.

  1. It is a human trait to organize things into categories. Inventing categories creates an illusion that there is an overriding rationale in the way that the word works.
  2.  Surfaces that are “easy to clean” also show dirt more. In reality a surface that camouflages dirt is much more practical than one that is easy to clean.
  3. Maintenance takes time and energy that can sometimes impede other forms or progress such as learning about new things.
  4. All materials ultimately deteriorate and show signs of wear. It is therefore important to create designs that will look better after years of distress.
  5. A perfect filling system can sometimes decrease efficiency. For instance, when letters and bills are filed away too quickly, it is easy to forget to respond to them.
  6. Many “progressive” designs actually hark back towards a lost idea of nature or a more “original form.”
  7. Ambiguity in visual design ultimately leads to a greater variety of functions than designs that are functionally fixed.
  8. No matter how many options there are, it is human nature to always narrow things down to two polar, yet inextricably linked choices.
  9. The creation of rules is more creative than the destruction of them. Creation demands a higher level of reasoning and draws connections between cause and effect. The best rules are never stable or permanent, but evolve, naturally according to content or need.
  10. What makes us feel liberated is not total freedom, but rather living in a set of limitations that we have created and prescribed for ourselves.
  11. Things that we think are liberating can ultimately become restrictive, and things that we initially think are controlling can sometimes give us a sense of comfort and security.
  12. Ideas seem to gestate best in a void— when that void is filled, it is more difficult to access them. In our consumption-driven society, almost all voids are filled, blocking moments of greater clarity and creativity. Things that block voids are called “avoids.”
  13. Sometimes if you can’t change a situation, you just have to change the way you think about the situation.
  14. People are most happy when they are moving towards something not quite yet attained (I also wonder if this extends as well to the sensation of physical motion in space. I believe that I am happier when I am in a plane or car because I am moving towards an identifiable and attainable goal.)
  15. What you own, owns you.
  16. Personal truths are often perceived as universal truths. For instance it is easy to imagine that a system or design works well for oneself will work for everyone else.

Beautiful people do not just happen

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.
-Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
For a bit of perspective, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was a psychiatrist who spent much of her time with terminally ill patients who had only a few months to live. You might know her work by way of “The five stages of grief”, a theory she shared in 1969 and is pretty famous today. Her life of working with the ill and dying provides some insight into the mind behind this quote.

Another quote from an interview she did rings true of life

In Switzerland I was educated in line with the basic premise: work work work. You are only a valuable human being if you work. This is utterly wrong. Half working, half dancing – that is the right mixture. I myself have danced and played too little.