If I die Monday, may my tombstone read,“Died doing what he loves.”

On Monday I go in for Jaw Surgery. If I die, I want my tombstone to read, “Died doing what he loves.[1]

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.

 

[1] Self improvement.

Okay, cocaine.

It’s Good to be Disliked, A Manifesto.

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.

What if my dating profile were just a list of my values?

What if my dating profile were just a list of my values? After all, that’s what I’m searching for.

My values, 9 Feb 2019

(In the order they came to me)

  1. Clarity
  2. Positive impact
  3. Humor
  4. The human species
  5. Art
  6. Animals
  7. Honesty of impact, not necessarily of speech
  8. Freedom
  9. Writing
  10. Exploration
  11. Freedom
  12. Games
  13. Family
  14. Word choice
  15. Sex
  16. Touch
  17. Personal optimization
  18. [Censored for privacy]
  19. Privacy
  20. Sleep
  21. Personal improvement
  22. The youth group I advise
  23. [Censored for privacy]
  24. My long-form creative projects (especially my novel. Soon to be my TV show as well)
Previous values that no longer carry such great strength:
  1. Habits
  2. Winning
  3. Poker
  4. Board games (comes back out when I’m with old friends/family)
  5. [Censored for privacy]

On Art, pART 2

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:

  1. How many people it affects.
  2. 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).

 

Other musings:

  1. 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”.
  2. 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)
  3. Good art should add value to people’s lives. Value is important to note as distinct from perceived value (which is what money measures).
    1. Children produce great value for a few people. Cat videos produce little value for many people.
  4. Historically, creating evergreen content has been a stronger strategy than creating one-time impact, as that includes future generations in potential audience.
  5. 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.**
  6. 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.
  7. Another approach is changing what you’re passionate about.
  8. 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.)
    1. 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.

We used to make plans.

As a kid, I’d schedule a play date weeks in advance. These days, even when after confirming a reptile festival the day before, I still assume a 50-50 chance my friend bails. When he does, 8am day-of, I’m annoyed. I’m confused. How much is him and how much is changing culture?

I’m not here to tell you, “Something is lost.” It is, but that’s not the point. Instead, it’s simply that some things have changed:

  • We’ve lost certainty and confidence.
  • We’ve gained flexibility and opportunism.
  • We’ve lost reliability and comfort.
  • We’ve gained the more frequent upgrades.
  • We’ve lost security in friendships.
  • We’ve gained the freedom to follow our whims.

If people still lock down plans, I don’t know them. My friends might be outliers, or perhaps the Bay Area’s incessant climbing keeps everyone on the lookout for upgrades. Or maybe this experience is a worldwide phenomenon. Faster communication means more rapidly changing circumstances.

No matter the reason, I must adjust. It’s a tough lesson to learn. Negative punishment can easily become mis-associated. In this case, to self-blame:

  • “What did I do that made him cancel?”

or, worse,

  • “What’s wrong with me that made him cancel?”

I try not to see it in those ways. I try to see it as the new world order. I think that’s accurate, but I’m not sure. Are you? 

Quotent Quotables, Volume 2

I’ve curated a list of recent quotes from my life, along with a challenge: Who said each quote? Me or Not-Me? (Answers at the end; track your responses to see how well you fare!)

  1. “You know that Carly Simon song? It’s about me.”
  2. “Sometimes I feel like I’m always rushing. Then I get some free time and it’s just the worst.”
  3. “When you eliminate the extraneous, all that’s left is you. When you eliminate the you, all that’s left is the Tao.”
  4. “Pickling is so great. They take cucumbers and make them edible!”
  5. “Nexterday. I mean tomorrow.”
  6. “I like spending time with people with low self-esteem—whenever we arrive at a problem, they’re too busy blaming themselves to blame me.”
  7. “I’m a coffee drinker, so cups of tea aren’t my cup of tea.”
  8. “You’re nervous. That’s okay. Just don’t be nervous about being nervous.”
  9. “My computer just told me it has an upgrade it wants to run. Let me guess: it’s going to make the computer run more slowly and not affect how I use it at all.”
  10. “The more I learn about how things work, the more I learn they’re stupid and poorly done.”
  11. “Avocado would be a great Halloween costume for a pregnant woman.”
  12. “With T-Mobile, you get free tacos on Tuesdays, but with Verizon you can make phone calls.”

To protect you from accidentally seeing the answers, please enjoy this anecdote: (Real! Real true! Real true funny!)

Context: A highschool couple eats dinner at Chick-Fil-A. The Girl has painted her face with such vigor that it lacks pores. The guy sports spiky hair, diamond hoop earrings, and flip-flops.

Girl: I don’t find comedy funny.

Guy: You don’t find comedy funny?

Girl: I find it cringe-y. It’s not natural funny. It’s like forced funny. I don’t like comedy movies because they’re not funny. I feel like the only comedy that I actually find funny is, like, White Chicks. Oh my god! We should watch White Chicks together!

 

(Scroll down for the answers)

 

(Keep scrolling)

 

(Who’s a good scroller? You are! Yes, you are!)

 

Those answers you’ve been waiting for:

1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 12 are by Yours Truly

Your Score:

0: You know me incredibly well, but prefer self-sabotage.

1-3: Next time, try flipping a coin.

4-6: You did flip a coin.

7-9: Let’s be friends.

10-11: So close and yet so far. Was it the pickling? I bet it was the pickling.

12: Self… is that you? I mean me? Are you… me?

Why “Always Better”?

Why do I call my blog “Always Better”? Four reasons:

  1. It should be strictly better than some other activities. Eating popcorn or browsing Reddit, for example: this blog should Always be a Better use of time.
  2. I Always want to be a Better writer. Better than who? Better than I was yesterday. Better than I was this morning. Better than I’ve ever been.
  3. It’s a pun for what I wanted to be when I started the blog: Better in All Ways. [1]
  4. They say creative lives are a gamble.  That makes this blog is a bet, which means I’m Always Betting.[2]

[1]  I no longer want that. Instead, I’ve turned off improvement in some areas to focus more on the few I care strongly about.

[2] I haven’t fount my creative life particularly gamble-y, but that’s a topic for another time.