Thanks, Dad, for an incredible day. More connected with you than I’ve felt in memory. Your stories that weaved from place to place—about which I sometimes ask, “what was the point?”—today, the sharing was the point. Maybe that’s always true.
Am I focusing on the present because I’m having intensive surgery on Monday?
Right now, I’m afraid. Not of death, but life:
- What if improving my breathing isn’t miraculous?
- What if I fail?
- What if I die?
Death I can deal with. It’s failure that’s unacceptable.
I’m donating my tomorrow to high school kids. Teaching, mentoring, engrossed in giving.
When I could die at any moment, why do I write for companies I don’t care about? They’re stepping-stones?
- “But Kid, the best stepping-stones are rock and their own right.”
I didn’t think about any of that today. Just talked with you, Dad. And I loved it.
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.
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)
- Positive impact
- The human species
- Honesty of impact, not necessarily of speech
- Word choice
- Personal optimization
- [Censored for privacy]
- Personal improvement
- The youth group I advise
- [Censored for privacy]
- 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:
- Board games (comes back out when I’m with old friends/family)
- [Censored for privacy]
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.
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?”
- “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?
Why do I consistently wait until the last minute to complete work? (I recently completed my largest project of all time. I had over a month to complete what amounted to 44 hours of work, yet I still crunched through 38 hours in the final two days, staying up until 5:30 am and evolving into a giddy, manic machine).
- Being in time-crunch is thrilling and I enjoy a good rush.
- It makes work take less time, and I don’t like work. (Since I don’t have time to lollygag or double-back, I don’t lollygag or double back).
- “That’s a problem for future-Julian, and what has that guy ever done for me?”
- I’m a lazy fuck… who does what he promises. (I would never do it, but that’s not an option so I come as close as possible.)
- The system works so I have no incentive to change it.
- You never know when the teacher will change the assignment last minute. Did I say “teacher”? I meant “customer”. They’re shockingly similar.