Re-reads and First-passes

I’ve recently re-subscribed to Scribd which despite its strange and unexplained rules regarding which audiobooks are available to you at a certain time does still give me access to a lot of audiobooks each month for only $10. (I would gladly pay $20 or even $30 to allow me access to all audiobooks at all times. Even at those prices I’d still be saving a fortune.)

I’m currently playing with what I call “first-pass reading.” The basic idea of the first pass is to read a book once through in a more shallow and entertainment-focused way before deciding whether it is a book worth note-taking and more careful examination.

Approaching things this way relieves me of one of my chief concerns about audiobooks: I like to listen to them while walking the dog or relaxing, but it’s kind of a hassle to do either when I’m concerned with taking notes about the books I’m listening to. With first-pass reading, I can ignore that completely and just figure out whether or not I like the book or if I find it valuable. I can then decide to move it into the re-read queue based on how important I find the information in it. “I want to know this stuff but do I want to know it right now? How about in a month? Or a year?”

Actually, as I write that, it occurs to me that I could steal a bit from GTD methodology (or maybe it’s stealing from spaced repetition) regarding my re-reads. After finishing a book I can then decide when in the future I want to approach a book for a deeper examination and then schedule it. This could be very useful for books which my opinion of may evolve over time, i.e. reading a book about the electoral college every four years, prior to the presidential election. How might the person in office alter my feelings on the subject?

Currently, the way that I approach re-reads is through the use of index cards. I have a box full of cards and on each card in the name of a book that I’ve read. On the back is a list of every year that I’ve read that book. (I find only the years matter.) I then have the box separated into four sections based on my interest in re-reading the books:

  • Section 1 – Books that I want to continually re-read and study. These are not necessarily my favorite books but rather the ones I find most valuable.
  • Section 2 – Books that I enjoyed and would like to read again.
  • Section 3 – books that I don’t feel a pressing need to re-read frequently. The difference here is just a difference in frequency with Section 2. I’m not in a rush to get back to these books even if I enjoyed them.
  • Section 4 – books I disliked or books that I don’t think would be worthwhile to re-read. (Yes, I even re-read books I didn’t like. Books deserve another chance. It’s not always the book’s fault that I didn’t like it, often it’s who I was at the time that I read it. I’m convinced that one day I will re-read Don Quixote and understand why people enjoy it. I’m just not there yet.)

The books in each section are arranged chronologically with the most recently read ones at the back and the most distantly read ones at the front. Each year I draw four cards from Section 1, three cards from Section 2, two cards from Section 3, and one card from Section 4. Then I re-read them, add a year to the back of the card, and move them to the back of the appropriate section. This is also the time when they may move between sections. Perhaps reading a Section 1 book three times is enough for a while so I may move that book to Section 2 or 3.

There’s a lot of good about this system but it relies more on the randomness of my initial chronology. For the most part, I’m continuing to re-read books in the order that I first read them. This is somewhat problematic because it may be providing a context which biases my reading. Maybe I would get more value out of re-reading Dune if I were next time to re-read it following a re-read of  The Foundations as it’s said that Frank Herbert wrote Dune as a response to Asimov’s book. This is where I think the idea of scheduling re-reads might be a valuable addition.

Another point regarding first-pass reading and the use of a service like Scribd: I will no longer waste money on books that I don’t like or books that are not what I thought they were.

Categorized as Thoughts

Moving Dirt to the Other Side of the Yard

Moving all my notes over to Roam Research from Obsidian is a pain in the ass. It would be a pain in the ass just to be moving notes, but it’s about ten times worse because of how I had everything split up in Obsidian to try and replicate the modularity of the block system in Roam. Not to mention the fact that I have no system in Roam whatsoever, so as I’m moving stuff over I’m continually confronted with questions like “How am I going to deal with X?” For the most part, I trying to keep things as simple as possible. No templates. None of that shit.

When using a tool like Roam Research it’s surprisingly easy to get caught up in the fantasy of building some epic database. I think in my head I’m imagining someone hovering over my shoulder while I show off my elaborate note-taking system. There are two problems with this fantasy:

  1. I’m never really going to build it up to the point where it’s impressive.
  2. Nobody thinks note-taking systems are impressive. Nobody ever wants to see your note-taking system (unless it’s on YouTube and it’s other people having the same fantasy and wanting to steal part of your fantasy.)

Here’s the truth: 95% of what I need to do every day will work with search and Roam has incredible search. So, any optimizations that I do will be to make my searches more fruitful.

I’m still kind of sad to be moving from Obsidian to Roam Research because Obsidian is so beautiful and Roam is just butt-ugly. I’m being extremely practical. For my work style, the block system in Roam cuts my efforts by about 50%. So that’s pretty hard to argue with.

Also worth noting:

  • I was using Roam Research before Obsidian
  • I switched because COVID19 made finances extremely tight and $15 was too much for me at the time.
  • The switch is a pain in the ass, but my guilty pleasure is that I enjoy it. I like having a little busy work to kick around. It gives me something to work on a little every day while I listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

Categorized as Thoughts

Strange Fruits

I’m eating a kiwi as I type this. What a strange little fruit. I can’t decide what it is about kiwi that makes me buy them every time I see them. Are they good? Yes, though this one is definitely on the sour side—my tongue is stinging from the acid. But I have to be honest, as much as I like kiwi I don’t think that flavor is why I buy them. I think I buy them because they are so damn strange. Kiwi are strange-looking fruit. I can’t think of any other fruit that comes clothed in a fur coat. And the inside—that bright green and the black seeds. It’s alien. Kiwi are alien life. I think I buy them because of that. I think I buy kiwi as a dedication to the strange.

I’ve yet to buy a dragon fruit but it’s really only a matter of time.

I’m trying to think of other strange fruit that I love:

  • Prickly pear, which are actually kind of similar to kiwi though the spines on the outside are ticker and the inside is magenta.
  • Durian, I’ve only had it once in popsicle form but I liked it despite being told it would taste like gym socks
  • Lychee, once peeled they look like pupil-less eyeballs but taste like heaven. I was at a Korean BBQ once and they had lychee at the salad bar. I must have eaten at least 20 of them.
  • Loquats, they look a lot like small apricots until you cut them open and see that dark brown double pit. I grew up with these around.
  • Figs, definitely more on the common side but figs are weird. A fig is like a scrotum filled with the strangest texture. When you get a good one, it tastes like honey. Grew up on these too.
  • Pomegranates. also grew up on these. Lower on the weird scale than the others but how many fruits do you peel to find hundreds of individual pieces inside. And how many leave you with Lady Macbeth hands when you’re done?

I’ve just written almost 400 words on strange fruit. This is the power of daily journaling and its ability to turn off the censor in your head. That little asshole would have told me not to waste my time before but now after 56 consecutive days of freewriting for an hour a day, the censor knows to stay out of the way. 

I can’t believe it’s been 56 days! 66 days to build a habit is actually a much larger commitment than I could have realized. There have been so many ebbs and flows to this. So many days where I think I have the habit nailed and it’s easy, and almost as many days where it has been a push. I can see why all of these 10 days, 14 days, even 30 days to-build-a-habit templates fail. The commitment has to be huge. I still have two more weeks to go and I’m not convinced that it will even be concrete at that point. When I began I was positive that 66 days was enough, but after the tides of the past two months, I see how easy it would be to derail a habit.

I’m glad I did this because I think I understand habit-building from a different perspective now (as well as habit breaking.) When you observe one habit over a long period of time you start to really understand how fragile they are as well as how resistant we are to accept them even if we tell ourselves that we want them or even need them. It also becomes incredibly clear why you shouldn’t habit stack. I can barely hold on to one thing. No wonder all the times I tried to stack like 6 or 7 habits into my day always ended in disaster.

Now that I know how much of a dedication 66 days is, I’m having a difficult time decided which to build next after I reach the threshold for journaling.

  • a 16-8 daily eating schedule
  • a daily exercise routine
  • a meditation routine
  • daily compositional writing
  • learning slide guitar

These are all strong contenders. All of them good from an outside perspective. And I would say to some degree I want them all, but after experiencing the bulk of a 66-day dedication there is also a voice in my head that says “which one is worth the work?” Funny how that happens. All the candy looks good when it’s free, but when you have to pay that’s when discernment kicks in. I think I’ve found a good use for the censor after all!

I just had a strange moment where I was drinking water and telling myself that the next thing I wanted to type about was how Amanda Palmer is inspiring me to post things from my actual journal onto my blog. But wait. I wrote about yesterday…but in a different way. I suddenly realized that Amanda Palmer is a double influence on this. She is the mother and the father. Her book inspired me to confront my lack of openness. That’s what I already wrote about. But I realize now that her Patreon inspires me——how do I say this? Her Patreon reminds me that the river in my head never runs dry. 

The tendency when posting online is to play conservatively. Guard the base. Hold back. Not hold back for privacy but hold back so that you don’t run out of things to say. What if I say everything and then there is nothing left to say. I had this on my mind regarding sharing my journal. If I share everything in the journal then what the hell and I going to talk about on the podcast every week? And then that same day that I was running all this around in my head, I got an email. New post from Amanda on Patreon. It epically long. I haven’t even finished reading all of it. All of her posts are like this. She just pours herself out into them every time. And I ask myself how does she keep this up? How does she find more? But that’s it, isn’t it? There’s always more. My mind is always thinking. I’d fallen prey to the censor again in a different way. I wasn’t afraid of running out of things to say, I was afraid of running out of good shit to say? What if I start writing petty things. What if I start writing inane things? What if I start writing stupid things?

That’s the point.

That’s vulnerability.

I know I won’t run out of things to say. For 56 days I’ve yet to run dry. And every time I think I’m dry I find that I’m just being judgemental again. I’m just telling myself what is and what isn’t worth putting on the page or the screen.

For god’s sake, I wrote about strange fruit today—and not the heartbreaking Billie Holiday song that Nina Simone somehow made more heartbreaking.  Just fruit.

My mind is not a cup that only holds and pours so much. It is an ocean. It is vast. It is like space. It is endless. And it is filled with stars—burning distant stars.

Categorized as Thoughts

The Vulnerable Raw Journal

Today I’m trying to sit outside despite the fact that it is still a bit chilly. I just miss the fresh air. I’m also using the Chromebook which works perfectly with Roam Research & WordPress. I could honestly get away with using this $100 machine for so many things and the limitations may actually be an advantage in that I can’t do much. I could still quite easily get lost in internet rabbit hole but I don’t tend to do that very often. For my purposes right now this set up is perfect.

Also I’m starting to see an advantage to using index cards instead of notebooks for my notes: there’s something satisfying about sitting with a small pile of cards and entering them in my system which I did not feel when doing the same with notebooks. I suspect this has something in common with the psychology of checkboxes. It’s like making small milestones along your path. When moving over notes from a notebook to digital, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed because the progress is more abstract (page numbers.) “I got from page 47 to 53.” That doesn’t feel the same way that a tangible change in a stack of cards feels. You don’t need to count them or do any math to feel satisfaction. You can just pick up the pile of cards you input and say I got these done. The difference may seem subtle but in practice it is not. In practice the little tricks we are able to play on our brains have powerful leverage.

I’m contemplating something different with this blog—something different for me that is. It occurs to me now that I’m still approaching the blog as articles. I wasn’t even aware I was doing it, but looking back at the past entries I can see that they all focused on specific topics. This isn’t a bad thing, but I really feel more inclined toward the the old days of Tumblr and LiveJournal where each entry is just a daily letter of sorts or ranting chaos. Allow the mess of thoughts to swarm together. “What is this entry about?””It’s about what is on my mind today.”

This is a level of intimacy that I haven’t been comfortable with for a while. Which feels funny for me to be saying as someone who wrote a book called Erectile Dysfunction. The Chad that wrote those poems was completely unafraid of vulnerability, but it’s easy to be unafraid of vulnerability when you have never been burned by it. And yes, in the time since writing that book, doing daily vlogs, and other public forms of openness, I have learned to be more protected. Until last night, while reading Amanda Palmer’s excellent book The Art of Asking, I hadn’t realized just how guarded and secretive I’d become.

Amanda says:

Asking is an act of intimacy and trust. Begging is a function of fear, desperation, or weakness. Those who must beg demand our help; those who ask have faith in our capacity for love and in our desire to share with one another.

On the street or on the Internet, this is what makes authentically engaging an audience, from one human being to another, such an integral part of asking.

Honest communication engenders mutual respect, and that mutual respect makes askers out of beggars.

It was those cluster of words “authentically engaging an audience” that got me thinking about vulnerability. Can you authentically engage an audience when you keep everything about yourself hidden? It’s not an easy question to answer, because that answer will be different for each person. Cormac McCarthy & Bill Waterson have had very successful careers full of devoted fans without open a door or even a window into their lives. For artists like Amanda Palmer, Frida Kahlo, and Jack Kerouac vulnerability is necessary. There are no boundaries between the art and their lives. So, I don’t think this is really the question I was asking myself. I think what I was asking was what what works for me?

I clearly tend toward the reclusive side of things, but reclusive doesn’t mean that what I share isn’t personal. In fact the more I thought about it the more I realized how many things I had failed to say because of over-vigilant self-protection and because of not wanting to “write” it.

It’s really easy to avoid posting things because of the polish process–that’s what I mean when I type “writing” in quotations marks. There are often things I want to post but I avoid simply because they are raw and sloppy and definitely have typos. But if I took the time to polish things to the level I find acceptable it would take days. I don’t want blogs that take days to put together. I want a journal. I want a space that encourages me to share everyday, or at least very frequently. As Pascal wrote: “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

This is the differentiation I was trying to make earlier about the article writing vs LiveJournal type stuff. My tendency toward less frequent article type posting is not some attempt to elevate my thinking, it’s a symptom of fear of vulnerability. The messy journal format that I’m drawn toward is not easy. It’s not easy to put yourself out in a raw form, because by it’s nature you know it’s screaming to be criticized. But when did I become like this? In my head I still think of myself as the person who doesn’t give a fuck about criticism, but that’s not how I’m behaving.

In the middle of writing this in my private journal I began to realize that it was what I needed to post next, and I find it interesting how that knowledge began to twist the tone. It’s going to take a lot for me to face down my biggest enemy: performative writing–as in the tone a piece takes when I know it will be seen. It’s different than my real tone. I don’t know if this is something other people feel when they read things they’ve written but when I get a whiff of it in my writing it bores me.

Interesting to note that I feel while writing this I was typing more non-stop than yesterday yet by word count it’s significantly lower. This is probably because I spent the time to look up two quotes and also because I paused more to collect my thoughts. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, but I have to keep the sidetracking stuff to a minimum. This is a journal not a book. It’s about my thoughts not other people’s.

I really like the idea of pulling larger chunks of this journal into my blog. It’s what I think I’ve been wanting for a while but not realizing. It’s kind of shocking the amount of things I find myself to be thinking that I’m not consciously aware of. Knowing yourself is a daily process. Who am I today? What do I think? What do I want? How do I act? Who am I and am I any better that I was yesterday?

I have the photos widget setup on the home scene of my iPhone. It seems to show me random photos during the day that may or may not be related to the date. I love it. I’ve decided that when appropriate I will include whatever photo is showing at the time that I post (unless it’s actually private of has people in in it who haven’t given permission for the face to plastered on my blog). I won’t explain why the photos are. I like the mystery and the surprisingly juxtaposition they may present without whatever I’ve written above.

Categorized as Thoughts

The Come-to-Jesus Moment

When I worked in catering I had a co-worker who I honestly think enjoyed the power of reprimanding his employees. He used to refer to these chats as “come-to-Jesus talks” or as “come-to-Jesus moments.” While I was never fond of chewing people out, I was pretty fond of that term and its pseudo-religious overtones.

For me, a “come-to-Jesus” moment insinuates three things: reckoning, repentance, re-alignment. It’s the moment when you realize “holy shit, I completely wrong,” and the earth moves. True “come-to-Jesus” moments are rare but when they hit you, they hit you like the windshield of a speeding sedan and they flip you over the roof like every movie you’ve ever seen.

I had one of these moments recently. And I actually think that when I explain it, you won’t find it to be as big of a deal as I did—but I assure you that it shook the ground.

“For a truly great company, the Big Thing is never any specific line of business or product or idea or invention. The Big Thing is your underlying flywheel architecture, properly conceived” 

― Jim Collins, Turning the Flywheel: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great

The way that I had always understood Jim Collins’s idea of the flywheel could be found in Disney’s 1957 Marketing Plan

Basically, do stuff that’s similar. Make sure that everything connects in some way, and let them all feed each other. Your TV shows plugs your merchandise. Your merchandise promotes your theme parks. Your theme parks promote your movies. Your movies give you music for albums. And so on. And so on. Just create feedback loops.

But, here is the piece that I was missing; here’s was my “come-to-Jesus moment”: with a flywheel you focus your energy on the primary action and everything that follows is inevitable.

As an example, here’s a simplified version of the famous Amazon flywheel:

Focus your energy on growth and it lowers your cost structure. If you lower your cost structure you can sell things at lower prices. If you sell things at lower prices then you improve your customer experience. If you improve your customer experience then you’ll get more traffic on the website. If you have more traffic on the website then more sellers will want to be on your website. If more sellers are on your website then you have a greater selection of products. If you have a greater selection of products then you improve your customer experience. And that loop just keeps spinning. Hence the flywheel.

Now, look at all that again remembering the word inevitable. The lower prices are an inevitable consequence of a lower cost structure. A larger selection is an inevitable consequence of having more sellers on your site. These aren’t choices, they’re consequences. They happen because of what precedes them. What this means in the context of Amazon is, as long they pour all their energy into growth, everything else follows. Let me repeat that: as long they pour all their energy into growth, everything else follows.

Some of you see where I’m going and some of you are still wondering what the hell this has to do with me? Why is this a revelation?

We all have limited resources, which means that we need to maximize what we get out of the little that we have. If you were Jeff Bezos and you had $7B to invest in your company where would you put it? Would you put $1B into every step and get fractional returns on each? Or would you put all $7B into growth because you know that the other six will follow on their own and at massive levels?

Let me give this to you one more time using a video game scenario. You’re a paladin in a role-playing game and you’ve built your character up to level 26. You’re ready to explore a new area on your map and you stumble across a giant acid slug monster with the face of Danny Aiello from Do the Right Thing. He’s deadly. He spits acid, calls you racial slurs, slings garbage cans at you, and the minimum hero level to defeat him is—you guessed it, level 26. Your exact level. It’ll be tough but you can beat him. Theoretically. But here’s the problem, on top of dodging his acid and garbage can attacks you also have to deal with his spawning ability. Every 7 seconds this guy farts and 5 demon mosquitos fly out of his ass and attack you. So what do you do? Do you keep endlessly swatting the mosquitos to death knowing there will be more? Or do you ignore them and focus everything on the Boss, knowing that if you kill him no more mosquitos will erupt from his anus?

For too long, I have been swatting mosquitos. I’ve been splitting my energy into too many different places. I’ve been doing lots of stuff that is similar, but I haven’t been looking for a chain of ineviatbility. But suddenly here is this revelation: if you find the primary activity, you can put all of your energy not it, and still get everything else. BOOM. The earth shook. Reckoning. Repentance. Re-alignment.

“What’s the ONE Thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

— Gary Keller, Jay Papasan, The One Thing

I know my one thing. And I’ll burn everything else that I’ve built in order to follow it. Do you know your one thing?

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Categorized as Thoughts

Self-Centered Generosity

Is there another term for self-centered generosity? I would define this as giving for the sole purpose of fulfilling a narrative in your mind with no concern for the wants and needs of the recipient.

Imagine someone who gifts golf balls, golf clubs, golf shoes, etc to someone who doesn’t play golf or to someone who loathes golf—would we still consider this generous? What of someone who buys ground beef every week for a vegetarian, or mushrooms for someone who is allergic? (It must be noted that in the case I’m describing these things are done out out self-centered lack of concern not out of ignorance. In fact, the gifter is reminded each time that the gifts are unwanted.) Could this person still be reasonably seen as generous or are we dealing with what I can only describe as a pathological form of narcissism masked under the guise of charity?

Giving—true giving—comes from a place of empathy. “When we went to lunch last month you mentioned that you had no nice winter coats, so I bought you a nice winter coat to keep you warm.” Giving is not a two step process of acquiring and presenting, it also requires the determination if actual need exists as well as whether the person will accept the gift. These assessment may be wrong in an act of true giving but at least they are first considered. Whereas giving without the consideration of these two actually denotes a blatant lack of respect for the proposed recipient. It is a form of condescension. The recipient is a prop in an internal drama, the drama of “look at me, I’m so generous.”

Another aspect of true giving is accepting that the gift may be rejected. We give with hope. If the reaction to a decline is anger and condemnations of ingratitude, then the internal drama become more apparent. “How dare you interfere with the story I was creating to feel good about myself. You should feel lucky that I chose to include you in my story.” This sort of giving is not giving, it is an act of self-satisfaction for the gifter. It is masturbation.

Is generosity the shallow act of giving or instead, is it an active expression of thoughtful compassion?

Categorized as Thoughts

Story Block Cards

I had two ideas earlier and they seemed to have collided:

  1. collect small piece for stories like characters, character traits, descriptions, scenes, situations, stories ideas, object, etc
  2. use index cards for note

I think putting these story blocks onto cards will work better than putting them in a notebook or into a program of some sort, because the index card format emphasizes the modularity of the idea. Imagine grabbing five or six of these cards and creating a story for the randomness that you get. It could lead to a lot of shit writing but a lot of very unique combos as well, pairing characters and scenes that I never would naturally.

Of course, in order for this to work I need a lot of idea cards in the box when I start pulling. (No Magic is going to happen with a 12 cards box.) So, I’m going to need a strategy for creating idea cards. These are the first three things that come to mind.

  1. If things every return to something resembling pre-COVID normality and I’m able to people watch in public again, then I should dedicating time specifically to going places, observing, and collecting.
  2. Take James Altucher’s idea of daily idea generation and replicate it specifically for fiction. Set aside a small pocket of time every day to think of ten ideas to use in stories.
  3. In Blindboy’s episode Yurty Aherne he talks about his habit of stopping to write about his sensory experience while he experiences them. If he steps in mud, misses a bus, or any number of every day things, he’ll stop and scribble down descriptions of how it feels internally and externally. Use this.

One thing is clear, I have to again become diligent about having a pen and paper at all times. Even when I’m lounging around in pajama pants.