“These actions are not essentially difficult; it is we ourselves that are soft and flabby.” — Seneca
The Human Distillery
you take a step back, the greatest of people in history are a
distillery. The most talented and hard-working of people often produce
only a handful (or even just one piece) of great work or events that are
noteworthy. The rare and devoted few actually go
through a great person’s minutiae — hundreds of thousands of small
pieces that were completed daily to work towards that great work.
is a deep conviction required for this. To spend hours per day working
towards something bigger, something that might instead fail quietly. As
well as the remarkable forethought to understand what needs to be worked
on, and in what order.
Though, perhaps there isn’t such planning. Rather, these great works instead are conjured up organically by a repeating persistence and habitual work. Regardless, the conviction is still there.
Living on fire without putting yourself out — and cherishing the heat.
“May you live in interesting times.”
English translation of a purported traditional Chinese curse.
My good friends! I would like to say hello, once again. For the past three years, I have written a birthday post. A sort of thematic idea that is supposed to encapsulate the idea I would like to live out this year. Small self-experiments just for fun. My fourth one, however, it is very late. My twenty-third birthday was almost a year ago now, with my next birthday now creeping in.
Death, Meaningless Ideas, Timeless Work, and Paper
Perhaps the first thing that I’d like to write after the obviously required navel-gazing of yesterday is more navel-gazing today — but of a different flavor. Perhaps a bit more morbid.
I enjoy the metaphysical writing about writing, as though if I meditate on the topic enough, I’ll somehow garner the skill to masterfully execute it. As though I’m trying to bend the spoon with my mind, just looking at it. I don’t think it’s truly any sort of specialty, though.
Yet, despite the fruitlessness of particular topics — such as this one — writing does help me in a multitude of ways.
As I’ve written in the past, I often think about the legacy that I’ll be leaving behind. What sort of impact am I having on the world, if any? And if I am making a dent in the universe, is it for the better?
Contrary to what you might think, those questions are irrelevant. Trying to setup all the pieces of a future you aren’t apart of is a fool’s errand. There’s no point in hoping for the best, because that doesn’t change what’s going on.
Instead, there’s only right now.
“Your future is created by what you do today, not tomorrow.” — Robert Kiyosaki.
Sometimes I find myself worrying what’s ultimately become meaningless in a few months or less. When I do, I try to take a step back and look at the larger picture. That’s where meditation on death is both important and helpful.
If I only had a few months to live, what would I do right now in this moment?
Though I am nowhere in comparison with such a gifted man, I’ve felt a near-identical pursuit since I wrote my real first post: To write standalone essays on — what I believe to be — important topics. But what exactly are important topics? And how am I supposed to separate my good writing from my bad writing?
Trying to answer those questions is, again, just a fool’s errand.
Everything I have inside of my heart and inside of my head needs to be written down — without prejudice. It is a well-known fallacy within programming to try to optimize prematurely. The act of trying to fix things before anything is even completed. I take a similar approach to writing.
The act of iteration. To publish multiple revisions publicly. To publish what could potentially be drivel. To turn past mistakes into better futures.
That’s why I’m writing right now. Two days ago, I didn’t really know what I was going to write about this month. I had no clue how I was going to reach 50,000 words by the first day of December! But now I have eight different articles already in the works, and it’s only day two. You can push yourself far harder than you realize. And actually throw yourself out into the wolves.
“Ideas” & Suck
You might think you can, but you actually aren’t able to see inside your head. Ideas you let linger for too long without writing down will eventually fade away. It’s akin to the longer you stay in bed in the morning. It gets harder and harder to finally get up.
Ideas are cheap, anyways! Anybody can say that they’re an “idea person”. It takes far more skill, far more discipline, and far more patience in order to be a storyteller. To take the seeds of concepts and germinate them in the real world, and let others see what you’ve made. It takes deep vulnerability — a lot of would-be storytellers have too much pride to start. Because when you start, you tend to suck:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” — Ira Glass
Current Events vs. Timeless Work
The world is volatile — we live in interesting times. The exciting — and at times terrifying — hyperactivity of information and happenings seem endless. But they really are not. It’s only a matter of time before things start to settle again. Whether the bar is raised or lowered, new normalcy always finds its place. We will adjust to a new paradigm in politics, and we will adjust to our science-fiction technology.
This is important to note, because so much work is created that only makes sense in the context of right now. An endless stream of often-times white noise that is only valuable for this week, or just today. Good work is work that can stand on its own. Good work transcends trends and current events. While past and topical content might invoke a nostalgia in some, it ultimately becomes foreign and faded.
As we see an evolution in differently growing media, a new era of democratic art, we still look back at the good work that was created centuries and millennium ago. Understand the difference between writing a shallow piece that tackles onto something popular, versus engaging it. Make great satire, critically analyze, share emotion. The important thing to remember, though, is a sense of universality. The commonality between all of humanity is the secret — and clearly simple — ingredient.
In order to finish this arbitrarily long and disjointed post, I want to talk about paper. Paper is truly a magical thing, and I think that — more than anything else — it best answers the question of why I exactly I choose to write:
“Why do you write?”, they ask. I pause for a moment before answering.
There are times where all I have is a few pieces of paper. Paper that understands me — that can understand things that I don’t yet. Any mistaken ink I spill on this page results in no consequence.
The paper listens carefully — it does not throw harsh insults at my stupid thoughts. The paper just lets me be. In return, I give it a story — an identity. And when it is finally and totally filled-up, I know there will always be more.
There will always be more paper, so I will always have to continue writing.
As it stands, the large majority of the internet — and services that operated based on it — run under some contradictory principles. On one hand, everything you use is rather fragile —domains expire all the time, and we live in a world full of budding start-ups that could be bought or fail at any time. On the other, these companies operate as though they — and their users — are immortal.
This is pretty understandable. The largest demographic of the internet are younger people (ages 15–34), and these businesses have to clearly rely on their users being alive to gain activity and make money.
But as we enter the fourth decade of the internet’s lifespan, we have to seriously start looking into the long-term sustainability of our content and how others will be able to access it — if at all.
It’s almost impossible for us to actually know what will happen to our data a decade from now — much less a century or a millennium. No matter how many redundant back-ups we might have, our hard drives will inevitably fail or will become incompatible and obsolete. (Although there is speculation of a vast improvement.)
Cloud-driven data is even less immune to the battle of time. Sure, I can use Google Drive, iCloud or Dropbox and any would be far more secure and durable than a lot of newer companies, but all that data will still be essentially lost if I don’t take the uncomfortable burden of telling my family or friends my passwords.
And that‘s most troubling problem, here. Very few companies enable any sort of ‘legacy mode’ for their users. Facebook does, but only out of essentiality. Penzu does as well, but only in their older version.
We’ve reached the point in time where we need a digital shoebox of memories as much as we need a real one. We need a way to be able to pass down our photos and videos effortlessly from generation to generation. To build time capsules that are permanent and can be accessed at any time.
On the other side of the coin, will it be possible for our secrets to be securely wiped? Could our wearables detect when our pulse stops, implementing a protocol to actually delete files wirelessly?
It is impossible to do anything except speculate about what the future might bring. The entire paradigm of the internet is changing more abruptly than ever with advances in artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Can we create continual, passive algorithm that are able to keep our documents in spite of our disruptive advances? I can’t say for sure.
There are a lot of online writers I’ve seen that post about the fact we can only make so many choices throughout the day before becoming fatigued. One recently reached the top stories of Medium.
As much as I sincerely appreciate the sentiment behind the message, and true as the science behind this might be, it drives me crazy to see it all over the place. The reason this irks me is because there’s a far larger and more obvious limitation we face:
Ego depletion. We have a finite amount of energy every day. Period. It’s our fundamental physiological nature. You can only expend so many calories and thoughts before your entire body and mind become depleted.
And even further than that, the amount of days we have are finite.
This is beyond our willpower. It’s every single thought and emotion we feel — it’s where we decide to go or not go. Whether we are conscious of it or not, each day we wake up we are deciding our entire identity by the actions we take.
A New Day
While I’m not the biggest quote fanatic, when I was back in high school, I stumbled upon a large typographic poster that was about to be thrown out. It had no source, and searching for it lead to a lot of variants. It took awhile but I finally found the original source.
Written by an online friend, a few months before his death:
Understanding the reality of death brings a peace to my heart. Facing life and all of the wonders has been a growing experience for me. Neither a worry or a problem can slow me down now. At last, I am free.
I have adopted a new motto for the remaining days of my life. Maybe if you can understand the importance of enjoying life to its fullest, you can appreciate my new motto and maybe you can begin your life all over again, free from the present burdens that keep you trapped within yourself.
This is the beginning of a new day. I have been given this day to use as I will. I can waste it. . . or use it for good, but what I do today is important, because I am exchanging a day of my life for it! When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving in its place something that I have traded for it. I want it to be gain and not loss; good and not evil; success, and not failure; in order that I shall not regret the price that I have paid for it. I will try just for today, for you never fail until you stop trying.
Ric Kausrud, 1997 After living with HIV for over 20 years, Written a few months before his death from complications from AIDS
Far too often do we allow ourselves to waste the time we have. I can’t even count the amount of time I’ve wasted being mad at something or someone. Or wishing for something better than what I have instead of actually trying to obtain it.
Most of the time, the reason we even get caught up in something is out of pettiness or ego. And then we become too entrenched, thinking we’ve wasted too much time to stop. This is incorrect thinking, known as the sunk cost fallacy.
Get it out there and breath. Move on. Choose a better hill to die on. Sometimes it’s more courageous to give up than to keep fighting. It is cliché to say “live every day like it’s your last” and it’s also unreasonable. Life isn’t meant to be lived that way. Catch yourself when you’re expending yourself on things you don’t actually want too. Don’t wait for something tragic or fatal to occur in your life before you realize you can make a change.