On Monday I go in for Jaw Surgery. If I die, I want my tombstone to read, “Died doing what he loves.”
I’ve never seen a footnote on a tombstone. Nor ellipses. I’m updating the medium. The joke makes it more palatable.
I joke because I’m afraid. I’m afraid because it’s frightening. I’ve never been closer to death than I will be on Monday.
I’ve always mused on death. I wrote my first auto-obituary at 13. The same way some people use the largesse of space to decrease their anxiety; I use death to accept depression. When I wake up late enough that I feel grumpy, the phrase “death and taxes” echoes in my mind. It reminds me of two crucial elements – timeliness and humor. One makes today matter and the other makes life worth living.
I’m spending tomorrow and Sunday advising a local high school youth group, and Saturday with my dad. If I die, let it be known I went out doing what I loved.
 Self improvement.
I probably don’t like you. You’re welcome.* (*: Not sarcastic.)
My fourth-grade classroom restricted its students to bringing identical Valentine’s Day cards for everyone or no cards at all. I found this a problem, as most of my classmates were bland blobs, while a vocal minority were… [people I didn’t like].
Only this year—at age 25—did I finally realize I can choose my friends. Four of my friendships ended this year, and I’m glad they did.
An ex ended our friendship—my first official ending—in July, followed by an old poker buddy in August. I ended one in October—my first initiation—and a different ex ended our friendship on Monday. Every one of these has been a wonderful change, with benefits extending far beyond free time.
It’s common knowledge—and I find it experientially true—that you “can’t please all the people all the time.” Apply that to relationships: Some people won’t like you. Turn that around: You won’t like some people.
Ending a friendship is therefore an act of integrity. It forwards your values. It makes manifest your soul.
You prioritize your family. You care about your friends. Most people choose a partner to prefer over all others. Having preferences is Good. It’s the foundation of consciousness.
All my friends have former, now-dead friendships. Most drift apart instead of going out with a bang, but both seem to happen surprisingly often. People grow and change. Friendships die. We can still love what was.
You can hate some people and everything they stand for. You can love with abandon those you prefer. You can express your soul. If someone doesn’t like you, good for them.
The more that art affects lives, the better it is. (Assuming it affects lives in a positive way).
This can be broken down into two dimensions:
- How many people it affects.
- How much it affects them.
You could define “expected impact” as (Total number of people) x (Average amount of impact).
A few methods for creating art with a high expected impact:
- Create a valuable message
- Make the message easily digestible (more memetic).
- Create a message that lasts a long time
- Widen the audience it appeals to (target more demographics).
- Focus your art on the influencers (powerful/social people, good promoters).
(Creating art that impacts other artists would fall into this category)
- Make your art have less of a negative impact (be harmful to fewer people/less sizably harmful to those it harms).
- People often make the art they would want because:
- It’s relatively easy to do it well (easier than doing market research on an audience)
- Their own taste is an approximate proxy for “people who are like them”.
- If someone had every trait in the world, they’d make the most popular art because it’d be the most relatable (which increases digestibility of messages)
- Good art should add value to people’s lives. Value is important to note as distinct from perceived value (which is what money measures).
- Children produce great value for a few people. Cat videos produce little value for many people.
- Historically, creating evergreen content has been a stronger strategy than creating one-time impact, as that includes future generations in potential audience.
- Assuming its impact is good, the art you choose to do should be the one with the greatest expected impact. That is often similar to what you want to do most*, but not always.**
- I’m starting my career doing what I want to do most because I currently have the strongest ego (as you get older, your drive decreases) and may end up more on the intellectually-driven side later. (Editor’s note: a conversation earlier today redefined the word “ego” for me. I have more musing to do on this topic.
- Another approach is changing what you’re passionate about.
- Famous philosopher/author Nick Bostrom wrote a book that convinced many, many people to worry about AI as an existential risk. This prompted many people to start researching friendly AI, which may save the species and therefore have a HUGE impact on the world. (the hugest from here on out, perchance, because it’s necessary for all other future positive impacts.)
- This would suggest that a solid course of action for me—if there are any existential threats to humans—is to use art to fight them. (If it’s a thing that I could impact significantly. It’s not the only choice—my talents may be better used elsewhere—but it’s certainly a reasonable choice.)
*: You’ll want to do the thing that matters the most to you, and it mattering a lot to you is a good prediction that it’ll also matter to others. It mattering to others is a good predictor of how much it affects them.
**: That math has two spots of “good predictor”, so it’ll be exponentially removed from truth.
When people ask “How are you feeling?”, I wish they wanted this sort of answer:
I have this…
Deep, rich, weeping.
Eyes tight, throat… Tingling down my back and a dry mouth.
I shiver though I don’t move.
A cold breeze passes through my head.
A cold breath, a dry mouth, a buzz across the back; a tight lower back, furrowed brow.
Wide, blubbery second chin. Dry mouth, fast breath.
Stab right shoulder, under scapula.
I’ll test this sometime: dropping in and describing my felt sensations in real time.
I’ll test it 6 times in different contexts (because I’ll only get comfortable after the first few experiments).
An Ex texts, “Marry me?”
I say “You must be reading my blog.” She says no. She says she’s serious. Phrases include, “Clearly soul mates”, “White picket fence”, and “Multiracial adopted kids”.
How the hell does someone respond to that? After sufficient bewilderment, I settle on: “No thanks. Not really interested”. Later, I add, “But I suppose I appreciate the sentiment”.
After an hour of confusion, including texting a mutual friend to ask if Ex is okay, Ex tells me it was a joke. She has, in fact, been reading my blog. A joke, you say? Ha…
I suppose I deserve this. And I did ask for more pranks. It’s also eye-opening: this must be what friendship with me is like.
Tiny desire for identity
In a cookie-cutter world.
But this one’s “so you,”
Just like thousands
Have thought before.
Frightens the close-minded…
And we’re all close-minded.
So we stick to
The same safe deviance
As everyone else.
But it brings you joy.
What more do you seek?
What more is there?
It’s only two dollars.
Just buy it already.
Starting at puberty, it becomes socially unacceptable to exchange touch with anyone but romantic partners. This is bad. Touch is calming. It’s connecting. It’s fundamental to proper growth and development. Touch should happen more.
On a road trip with a friend, I hadn’t touched another person in a week. That’s a long fucking time. A week without touch is a cruel punishment that I wouldn’t subject on any animal. It’s not even a sexual thing – I just wanted physical contact. I asked if I could lie on my buddy’s lap. He said sure, so I did. Our conversation continued. I felt human. It was great.
Why does our society suppress touch? I understand the moratorium across gender and the requirements that touch be consensual. But why is it weird (or labeled “gay”) for guys hanging out to touch each other? We’re primates. Primates touch. Even gorillas – the biggest and strongest among us – pick nits out of each other’s fur.
I’m not sure why, but I don’t like it. I also can’t see a good reason against it, so I’m going to touch more.