what I’m doing now | virtual book

what I'm doing now

#journal

New York, Tofino, patio furniture, reading, writing, and more.

interior design

An odd perk of splitting my time between Seattle and Vancouver has been furnishing and decorating a second apartment, a task for which I have enough gusto to do twice over. More than twice, actually. I’ve starting telling friends that I would gladly help them lay out their spaces. I told one friend in particular, who finds furnishing and decorating stultifying, that when he buys his house, I will invite myself over and personally hang the artwork and mirror that have been leaning against his apartment walls for years. I routinely watch Never Too Small and Noah Daniel and have been toying with the idea of making TikToks or Instagram reels about my amateur interest in interior design. I already have the topic for the initial video: how to get cheap artwork that you love.

lounging on the balcony

Among the finest decisions I’ve made recently is buying patio furniture for our balcony. I bought it secondhand for $420 USD ($575 CAD), delivery included, and within a week have spent many more minutes (in either currency) lounging, reading, writing, and working on it. I expect to recoup a good deal of the principal when we resell in a year or two.

By furnishing the balcony we’ve added to our apartment a whole new space to be in. It’s like a tree house, perched up among a variety of leafy growth. Beyond the branches, in the evenings, lays the orange pink sunset silhouetting cranes on the port and past them the city skyline. It reminds me of this bit from Gail Sheehy’s memoir:

I had found a rent-stabilized apartment on Fifth Avenue, near the Metropolitan Museum of Art… It had a terrace overlooking Central Park. A small glass cubicle sat on one end of the terrace, where I wrote as if suspended in the sky. I could watch the leaves turn from scarlet to lemony pale and sit snug in a winter storm like being enclosed in a snow globe. It was as close to a writer’s heaven as one could get.

Unheated, the cubicle was also ideally suited to keeping the neurons jumping. In winter I typed in a hoodie, my feet encased in Alaskan mukluks. In spring, the terrace became my first garden. I filled the window boxes with swaying tulips. Tubs held bonsai mimosa trees and dwarf crabapple trees that bore fruit in the fall. It was a magical place to invite friends for drinks and outdoor supper.

My alcove is more modest, but magical still. A private little post embedded in the city. A perfect place to read and write.

reading

I have a knack for picking up new books even while I have already a few on the go and eschewing reading etiquette in this way amuses me as if it were actual mischief. It also does a lot to maintain and continually rekindle my reading appetite. My main book is The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which I’ve been reading since last fall. I’m about 75% done, but taking my time, letting the ideas marinate and noticing

how they apply

going for a walk

#journal #cities #vancouver #books Mentioned in what I'm doing now, what is this site? #2, nyc trip, what I'm doing now

As I walk through cities nowadays I try to look through a Jane Jacobian lens at the diversity of enterprise and use about. By use, Jacobs literally means the uses buildings provide: living, working, commerce, diversion, to name some of the main ones. Nowadays it’s easy to take for granted mixed-use buildings, but they exist because the city planning orthodoxy of today – which Jacobs influenced through her writing and activism – makes space for them.

Mixing of uses is only one of the ingredients that Jacobs argues districts must employ to generate lively and diverse city life. Another one is short blocks, to allow foot traffic from adjacent streets. On a recent walk, I noticed how much was packed onto one side of a short city block on one of the lively stretches of East Hastings in East Vancouver. A gym offering luxury fight goods and apparel, a plant shop, a laundry service business, a kitchen renovation business, a small counterservice cafe offering “Italian street food”, a nail studio, a print shop, a beauty salon, a travel agency, an importer’s office, a Vietnamese restaurant, and a hip diner. Most of these on the ground level of a three-storey residential building occupying much of the block. On the corner past the diner a vacant lot recently bulldozed in preparation for a four-storey mixed-use residential building.

A fifteen minute walk away begins the vibrant stretch of Commercial Drive, one of the liveliest areas of East Vancouver. Near its north tip, for example, there’s a gallery, a secondhand clothing shop, a shop for local art, and a coworking space, all in the same building and all apparently run by the same collective, which hosts events including stand up comedy nights and craft workshops in the gallery and coworking space.

Diversity is possible in cities, Jane Jacobs explains, because they bring together people in quantities so great that critical mass can be reached for projects and enterprises that can’t survive in sparser and less diverse communities. But for diversity to flourish and thrive, cities must create and maintain four key conditions: mixing of use, short blocks, buildings of varying age, and population density.

nowadays.

With Libby and Spotify, it’s easy to try out audiobooks, which are great for listening while doing activities with low mental demand like driving, cooking, and cleaning. Recently I sampled Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, because it is about a topic I’m

very interested

how to think invisibly

(Originally posted on okjuan.medium.com.)

#essays #psychology #creativity #subconscious #problem-solving Mentioned in where do ideas come from?, where do ideas come from? #2, Wild at Heart (1990), what I'm doing now

Does the brain control you, or are you controlling the brain? I don’t know if I’m in charge of mine.

Karl Pilkington sounds foolish, but he’s onto something. He tells an anecdote about a time when he finished his grocery list and moved on only to be interrupted by a thought that entered his mind suddenly: Apple.

That was weird — who reminded me of that?

The thought of apple just appeared and Karl doesn’t know how. It fell like a raindrop into his mind. This happens to us all the time, but we don’t notice it because we expect it. We think What’s his name again? and then something inside us slips an answer into our grasp: Mark. It’s like shaking a tree until fruit falls out. We don’t give the tree much credit. But Karl was leaving the orchard when the apple came rolling after him.

We talk about the subconscious as a mysterious engine that runs the dreams we soon forget after we wake up. But it’s also there in the day. It hums along softly in the background, chiming in helpfully when we need to remember someone’s name or what produce to buy.

But it’s more than our assistant. It’s our advisor, our consigliere. It’s the source of our gut feelings. Great ideas come from interaction with this humble inner partner, this invisible thinker.

Despite being teased by his buddies for his story about the apple, Karl echoed something the French polymath Poincaré wrote in his essay, Mathematical Creation:

At the moment when I put my foot on the step the idea came to me, without anything in my former thoughts seeming to have paved the way for it.

Like Karl, Poincaré tells stories of answers coming to him when he was no longer considering the question. And he welcomes it. He recognizes his subconscious mind as a vital actor in his work, a shrewd associate that finds a fresh lead while he rests.

Poincaré then concludes something that Karl would’ve been mocked for saying: resting is productive. Not because it reenergizes you for more work, but because it is work. Rest releases the invisible thinker to explore and find what you haven’t noticed yet. You can feel this happening in the shower when novel ideas surface in your mind without prompt. And though we can’t steer our ambient thought, we can set the direction.

Our train of thought springs into existence already in motion and it speeds between ideas connected by tracks in our mind. Though we cannot access the underlying web of knowledge directly, we experience the result of its traversal. And by training and ruminating on new ideas we integrate them into the network. This is why jazz musicians can fling out new melodies every night. A chord change played by the backing band illuminates melodic pathways carved into the musician’s mind during training. At the gig they just get behind their instrument and go for a ride.

We tap into these networks not only for spontaneous improvisation but also for careful design. We draw from a well of memories and impressions, questions and conclusions, recreating and appropriating them for new purposes. A musician composes from real feelings, from their desires and their fears. A fiction writer sketches a character from the outlines of real people, from the beauties they’ve admired and faults they’ve despised.

This personal reservoir is where filmmaker David Lynch fishes for the strange and abstract ideas that appear in his work. In his book Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, Lynch describes his process more as catching ideas than creating them. He receives ideas from something inside himself, and consults this inner source to develop and implement them.

Lynch isn’t the only prolific artist with a mysterious inner partner. Novelist Cormac McCarthy is well aware of his own collaborator. He said:

Writing can be like taking dictation.

Like Poincaré and Pilkington, McCarthy has talked about the mysterious experience of receiving answers from the ether:

I’d been thinking about [the problem] off and on for a couple of years without making much progress. Then one morning…as I was emptying [the wastebasket] into the kitchen trash I suddenly knew the answer. Or I knew that I knew the answer. It took me a minute or so to put it together.

McCarthy often talks about the Night Shift, the period when we sleep and the invisible thinker takes over. Pilkington agrees – from his book The Moaning of Life:

I think I’m more intelligent in my dreams than I am when I’m awake… A few months ago I went to bed with a problem, fell asleep thinking about it and when I woke up I had a solution.

The invisible thinker rules this hidden world where our creativity lives. It collaborates with us to devise and improvise, and it even thinks for itself. When relieved from its duty as our advisor, it roams freely, eager to satisfy its own curiosity. We heighten our creative potential when we deepen understanding with our internal agent. Especially if we don’t just ask but also listen.

Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, there stands a mighty ruler, an unknown sage — whose name is self. In your body he dwells; he is your body. There is more reason in your body than in your best wisdom.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra (Kauffman translation, 1954, p.146)

in and was recommended in a blog post by Oliver Burkeman, who I admire for his book

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals

Four Thousand Weeks (2021)

Time Management for Mortals

by Oliver Burkeman

#reviews #books #time-management #mortality Mentioned in how to coordinate metaphors, how to live in the moment, what I'm doing now

Highly recommend to anyone interested in reading about time management. This book has a radical message for you: give up hope. You’re never going to finish. Relearn what it means to spend your time well. You have very little of it and your anxiety about not wasting it is founded on bad assumptions and impossible standards.

I’d rate this book higher if I had learned more from it. I’ve thought lots about time management.

Sometimes I feel like Burkeman allows himself doubtful claims, but his ideas are interesting and useful nonetheless. His writing is good, but

not great

.

I enjoyed his anecdotes and references to other works. The idea of pre-clock life blew my mind. I hadn’t thought about the relationship between clocks, time, industrialization, and wage-labor. A great example of fundamental paradigms we don’t question. Pure ideology!

. Rest was underwhelming and speculative, but thought-provoking. I

ditched

how to ditch books

(Originally posted on okjuan.medium.com.)

#essays #books #reading #time-management #decision-making #psychology Mentioned in how to read to learn, how to read slowly, how to narrate transparently, what I'm doing now

Starting a new book is exciting. It’s like putting on a brand new pair of shoes on a sunny morning, with no puddles in sight. Sadly, the novelty wears off. Then, there’s that uncomfortable feeling at the prospect of leaving the book unfinished. The same book that starts as an exciting little activity becomes a nagging reminder that you failed to reach a goal.

Nobody likes starting a book and failing to finish it. So much so, I suspect, that it discourages us from starting a new one, in fear of not reaching the end. After all, who signs up for a marathon that they don’t expect to finish? Even if you ran an impressive 20 miles, you wouldn’t get the exhilaration of crossing the finish line and the satisfaction of officially achieving a commendable, well-defined goal that other people recognize and admire.

But is reading a book really about reading every single page that someone put between two covers? On principle, I think people would agree reading is about getting exposed to ideas that inform and influence the way we think. Surely, then, we can be done with a book regardless of whether we read it from beginning to end. And if we’ve “finished” the book in this way, shouldn’t we walk away satisfied and guilt-free?

Break Your New Year’s Resolution

Setting a goal number of books to read can foster the habit of reading regularly, a habit we all admire and covet. However, it’s easy to get carried away with trying to make measurable progress at the expense of approaching your actual goal. If you get fixated on officially finishing a book, you might be forgetting why you wanted to read it in the first place. By ditching a book when you feel you’ve had enough of it, you’re staying true to the real reason you set that goal of reading some special number of books by Christmas time.

In Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models by Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann, the authors tell a true story about a government that offered civilians bounty for killing rats in an effort to mitigate the local rat infestation. Specifically, they offered people money for each rat tail they brought in. They figured they could reliably track progress on the pest problem without having to handle the corpses. The plan backfired completely. Crafty entrepreneurs realized that they could capture a rat, cut off its tail, and then release it, so that it would live on to reproduce: more rats, more tails, more money. The pest problem worsened significantly.

But why all the gossip about rodents and dishonest bounty hunters? Well, Weinberg and McCann’s point is that metrics can be counterproductive. In the case of reading books, if you worry too much about how many books you’ve read front-to-back, you stray from your objective of learning and growing. Maybe you should change your metric or add a new one: the number of books checked out of the library, or the number of books you read for at least one hour. Anything that helps you make real progress and not counting rat tails.

Avoid the Sunk-Cost Fallacy

Books aren’t perfect. Many of them are good. Many others are just okay. Sometimes, you benefit by leaving a book unfinished and moving on to another instead of persevering through to the end, regardless of how far you’ve made it. In that case, by quitting the book, you’re overriding a psychological flaw and making a more rational choice.

The sunk-cost fallacy, as defined in Thinking, Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman is:

The decision to invest additional resources in a losing account, when better investments are available.

We fall prey to this error when we stick stubbornly with a book just because of the time we’ve already sunk into it. If this book is no longer doing it for you, move on. There are millions of other books and many of them are better than this one. If you can cut your losses and push through the unpleasantness that comes with doing so, you’ve likely made the optimal choice.

Read Other Books

If you feel guilty about not finishing a book you’re currently reading, you probably won’t start a new book. And so, if the book you’re reading loses your interest, you’ll end up losing steam and maybe reading no book at all. Unless it is important to you to finish this specific book, why not move on and keep your momentum going? By leaving a book unfinished and feeling good about it, you allow yourself to start a new book with excitement instead of guilt.

You’re Not Absorbing Much Anymore

We’ve all finished reading a paragraph only to realize that we didn’t absorb much of the information at all. It can happen when we’re having trouble focusing, but it can also happen when you’ve lost interest. That’s okay. It might be time to move on. Life is long, you can come back to this book in some weeks, months, or even years if it’s a book you think is worth reading eventually. By moving on, you are valuing results above all else.

Sacrifice Depth for Breadth

If you learn to ditch books with confidence, you’ll cover more variety of material. I think this is true not only because you start the next book sooner, but also because you avoid the reading slump you’ll inevitably hit when you’ve committed to a book that you have no interest in reading. By moving on to another book, you’re covering more ground when it isn’t worth staying put and drilling down for more.

It’s Not Worth Your Time

You might benefit a lot from a book early on, but less so in later chapters. Perhaps you’ve effectively satisfied your curiosity, or maybe the book’s value is distributed unevenly across its sections. Regardless, you’re facing diminishing returns and the book might not be worth your time anymore. By ditching the book, you’re reacting intelligently to a waning profit.

Conclusion

If we choose to finish a book, let’s make that choice for a good reason, and not because leaving it unfinished feels like failure. Moreover, let’s relish the opportunity to make the smart, if counterintuitive, choice of bailing on a book when it isn’t worth the time. If we overcome the mental hurdles that stop us from ditching a book even when we are justified, we’ll be free to read more widely and engage more deeply.

it, but it touched on the concept of the Default Mode Network, which has been, rather aptly, turning over in the back of my mind. It was gratifying and intriguing to find a neuoscientific name for a phenomenon that I and many others have intuited. In fact, I can tell that I am about to fall asleep when I am lying in bed and notice that my imagination has taken a life of its own, and that my conscious mind has left the director’s chair for a seat in the audience.

On the other side of the spectrum of ditchability are David Graeber’s books about debt and bureaucracy, which I’ve been listening to on Spotify and am thrilled to have discovered. I only learned of Graeber last year and my expectations were low when I began listening to his book about Bullshit Jobs, but recently I’ve started thinking he may have been one of the most interesting intellectuals of recent times. I want to get physical copies of his books and re-read them studiously, delving into topics he covers to test his judgment and theories, which I find insightful and very intriguing, if at times radical.

Otherwise, I’ve been picking up books on topics that relate with things going on in my life and in my head. Having recently returned from a

trip to nyc

nyc trip

#journal #travel #cities #nyc Mentioned in what I'm doing now

During the week that Z & I were there, we saw friends, shopped, attended comedy & jazz shows, visited museums, drank lots of coffee, ate lots of pizza, walked, biked, rode the subway, took the ferry, and wondered where in the city we might want to live.

Friday 05/17/2024 – Bushwick

  • 9:30am flight SEA -> NYC
  • Lyft from Newark to Bushwick airbnb
  • food & drinks at Salud bar and resto
  • comedy show @ Tiny Cupboard Comedy Club
  • drinks + nachos + arcade games @ All Night Skate

Despite having arrived at the Airbnb at 9pm, tired after a long day of travel from Seattle, it was easy to have an eventful first night. Within walking distance of the airbnb were plenty of bars, coffee shops, restaurants, convenience stores, and even a small comedy club.

Saturday 05/18/2024 – Bushwick

& Greenwich Village

  • 12pm coffee at Covert Coffee
  • walk on Myrtle then Knickerbocker Ave
  • came across singer songwriter at Crossroads Cafe
  • browse 28 Scott Vintage; Z bought loafers, necklace, and ring
  • pop into Urban Jungle AKA L Train Vintage across the street
  • great cappuccino and tea @ SEY coffee
  • great pizza for dinner @ Roberta’s
  • mini-nap @ Bushwick airbnb
  • train to Greenwich Village, walk, end up at St Tropez for drinks & appetizer
  • Kurt Rosenwinkel @ Village Vanguard

Also within walking distance of the airbnb were subway stations for the J, L, A, & C lines, which made it easy to get around Brooklyn and into Manhattan on the two days following.

The Village Vanguard was well worth visiting. Not only is it a historic jazz venue, but their minimum purchase is just one drink. Kurt Rosenwinkel and his band were great.

Sunday 05/19/2024 – Fort Greene, Park Slope, and Bushwick

  • coffee at The Daily Press
  • train to FreeFancy in Fort Greene for last Arsenal match of the year; bar was packed
  • brunch @ Olea, on patio
  • Hungry Ghost for cappuccino
  • walk down 5th Ave in Park Slope: thrift & vintage stores; book shop; stumbled across 5th Ave Street Fair
  • walked to G train to meet Brett but took wrong train, ended up in Manhattan; rerouted to Williamsburg easily enough though
  • dinner at Limosneros in Williamsburg with our friend Brett, disappointing food and cocktails
  • train back to Bushwick airbnb to rest
  • meet our friends Eva, Vince, & Adi @ Tiny Cupboard Comedy Club
  • drinks & shuffleboard @ The Evergreen, which was very quiet
  • drinks @ Purgatory, a cool bar

Especially compared with the noisiness and grittiness of Bushwick, Fort Greene and Park Slope’s tree-lined streets and brownstones were stunning. The affluence of this part of Brooklyn is obvious. Its peace and prettiness, however, comes at the cost of Bushwick’s personality.

Monday 05/20/2024 – Bushwick

& Astoria

  • checked out of Bushwick airbnb @ 11am
  • coffee @ Covert again
  • lyft to Brett’s in Bushwick to drop off luggage and see his place; Eva, Vince, & Adi joined us there
  • walk to The Bad Bagel for brunch
  • Bushwick market, bought a chain
  • good cappuccino @ Hala Coffee
  • walk back to Brett’s; stop @ Lazy Suzy for good coffee
  • go on rooftop of Brett’s apt blg, which was super cool
  • say bye to Adi, drive with Eva and Vince to Astoria airbnb
  • went for dinner @ Blue Sea Taverna
  • walk back to Astoria airbnb, greet Z’s friend Coco when she arrived

Astoria is not stunning to look at, but certainly more handsome than Bushwick. It is also, apparently, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world, with a particularly strong Greek presence. English comprised only a modest share of the languages we overheard people speaking in the area. This excerpt, from Jan Morris’s splendid ode to the wild vibrancy of Manhattan (1979), rang true:

Manhattan long ago abandoned its melting-pot function. Nobody even tries to Americanize the Lebanese or the Lithuanians now, and indeed the ethnic enclaves of the island seem to me to become more potently ethnic each time I visit the place.

Tuesday 05/21/2024 – Astoria, SoHo, The High Line, & Bowery

  • solo coffee @ Olive Coffee (decent cappuccino), Under Pressure Coffee (bad cappuccino), & finally Kinship (good cappuccino)
  • met Eva, Vince, Coco, & Zyan at Astoria blvd station, then we trained to SoHo
  • shopped at The ReShop & Classic Football Shirts pop-up shop
  • browsed high end furniture @ Orior
  • trained to Highline; got drinks and walked on Highline to Hudson Yards
  • said goodbye to Eva & Vince
  • dinner with friends @ Spicy Moon in Bowery
  • good cocktails @ Banzarbar with Zyan and Coco
  • train to Astoria airbnb

There wasn’t as much to see in Astoria’s center as I anticipated. Shopping in SoHo, on the other hand, impressed me. The Highline was as pretty and as busy as I remember it. Bowery has some good spots.

Wednesday 05/22/2024 – Astoria, East River, FiDi, NoHo, Lower East Side, & Midtown

  • solo coffee @ INFINITEA, good flat white and onigiri
  • accompanied Z & Coco while they ate @ BZ Grill
  • walked to Astoria terminal and took ferry to Wall St
  • coffee @ Black Fox
  • Coco went to Brooklyn Bridge on her own; Z and I trained to Noho, looked at stores on our own: Adidas, Sabah, Dashwood Books, modernlink danish furniture store
  • I walked alone through Lower East side
  • we ate dinner at Fish Cheeks at a terrace table in the cobblestone street
  • trained to Times Square for Wicked musical @ Gershwin Theatre
  • trained to Astoria, walked on Broadway, got slices @ Champion Pizza
  • trained back to airbnb

The ferry was great. Cheap, easy, and quiet. The views were great and various. In FiDi I was shocked at the quantity of tourists. We only went there because it was the ferry’s terminus, but it was interesting to see it after reading Jane Jacobs’s critique of it in

The Death & Life of Great American Cities

and The New Yorker’s recent article about the conversion of Wall Street office towers into apartment buildings.

The Lower East Side was charming, and it was memorable to eat outside on Bond Street, but the food was pricey. Wicked, the Broadway show, was as good as I remember it being when I saw it fifteen years ago. At night we explored Astoria some more, but still did not feel inspired by it.

Thursday 05/23/2024 – Astoria, Midtown, Greenwich Village

  • solo coffee @ INFINITEA again
  • train to manhattan with Z & Coco
  • cappuccino @ Inés
  • MoMA
  • lunch @ La Esquina nearby
  • flat white @ Partner Coffee
  • MoMA again
  • train to Greenwich Village for Terrace Martin & James Fauntleroy show @ Blue Note
  • cocktails at Maestro Pasta nearby
  • slices from Percy’s pizza
  • train to Astoria airbnb

Revisited INFINITEA and sat again at the table on the sidewalk, looking out on to the street. It was a delightful way to start the day, and I repeated again for the next two days. I’m glad I went to the MoMA while Z & Coco went to the Met. I love walking around museums alone, listening to my music. This time it occurred to me to leave after a couple hours, have a meal, a coffee, and come back. I think I’ll be adding that to my museum routine. Several restaurants in the area give a discount if you show them your MoMA ticket.

Compared to the Village Vanguard, the

Blue Note

was a bit embarrassing. Afterwards, walking through Greenwich Village at night, I felt like I was in an amusement park – the heat, the neon signs, people in every direction walking and talking, going into and out of venues, bars and restaurants spilling out onto sidewalk patios. We got cocktails and then slices to go. It was a quiet thrill.

Friday 05/24/2024 – Astoria, SoHo, Tribeca, Hudson River Greenway, Greenwich Village

  • solo coffee @ INFINITEA again
  • train with Z to SoHo
  • bought patchworked Carhartt jacket @ The Reshop
  • met up with Z, Coco, & Thomas @ Canal Market, where I had a burrito & cappuccino
  • visit Classic Football Shirts pop-up shop again
  • walk to Tribeca
  • solo train back to SoHo to pick up jacket
  • solo beer on covered patio @ Toad Hall
  • train to meet up with Z, Coco, & Thomas
  • free friday admission to Whitney Museum
  • walk south along the water while the sun set
  • dinner @ Jajaja vegan Mexican resto with friends
  • 10:45pm show @ Comedy Cellar
  • train back to Astoria airbnb

I had no intention of shopping during the trip, but I found great stuff in SoHo. As a kid, soccer jerseys comprised

much of my wardrobe

and in my eyes they still hold a special allure.

Saturday 05/25/2024 – Astoria & Ditmars Steinway

  • solo coffee @ INFINITEA again
  • brunch @ Anassa Taverna
  • solo walk to Ditmars Steinway
  • good cappuccino @ Mighty Oak Roasters
  • continue solo walk through Ditmars Steinway
  • met up with Z, Coco, & Thomas for ice cream @ Van Leeuwen
  • ride citi bikes down to Astoria Park, along water, and back to Astoria airbnb
  • take train + LIRR + Airtrain to JFK

Our last day was unexpectedly memorable. We walked up through Ditmars Steinway and took Citi Bikes to Astoria Park and rode them along the water. We liked it so much that we looped around and did it again before heading back for our bags to go to the airport.

I found Ditmars Steinway charming enough that I wondered if we might look for apartments there if we ever move to New York. It seems to strike a great balance between peacefulness and liveliness. I’m sure many New Yorkers would scoff or snort if I suggested it is an accessible location, but in its center is the Astoria-Ditmars Blvd station, from which runs the N through Astoria, into and all the way down Manhattan, into Brooklyn and all the way through to Coney Island. Bushwick, however, is not on that path, and would be painful to reach. Looking at the subway map, it’s clear the routes were designed primarily for commute in and out of Manhattan.

, I finally cracked open my copy of Destinations to read Jan Morris’s lovely piece about Manhattan. Also, I resumed Gloria Steinem’s Revolution From Within, since I’ve been thinking a lot about self-esteem and ego. Steinem’s reference to Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child sent me on a reading tangent about Miller’s initial advocacy for Konrad Stettbacher’s version of primal therapy and her eventual denouncement. Out of curiosity, I searched for New Yorker articles mentioning Alice Miller and ended up reading this New Yorker article about Bechdel, whom I only knew in relation to the Bechdel test.

I also started reading remembered rapture, bell hooks’s essays on writing, which is a topic I think about constantly. This in turn led me to Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, which bell hooks cites as one of the literary treasures recovered from obscurity by second wave feminism. In fact, according to Wikipedia, new interest in Hurston’s work was sparked in 1975 by an article published in Ms., Gloria Steinem’s magazine!

Reading

like this

how to choose your next book

#essays #decision-making #reading Mentioned in how to read deeply, what I'm doing now

There is a ridiculous amount of content out there. The diligence we demand of ourselves to finish the book we’re reading is ridiculous too, when you consider how many other books are out there waiting, and how arbitrarily or impulsively you chose this book in the first place.

Am I the only one that neglects their collection of unread books and picks instead a new one from the library or the bookstore?

I’ve learned to sample books, try them without committing, abandon them, plunge into them if they beckon me. I have ideas of where I want to go but also an aversion to planning, so I rely on

coherent impulses

to choose the next step.

is so much fun and, for me, a much more

efficient

how to ditch books

(Originally posted on okjuan.medium.com.)

#essays #books #reading #time-management #decision-making #psychology Mentioned in how to read to learn, how to read slowly, how to narrate transparently, what I'm doing now

Starting a new book is exciting. It’s like putting on a brand new pair of shoes on a sunny morning, with no puddles in sight. Sadly, the novelty wears off. Then, there’s that uncomfortable feeling at the prospect of leaving the book unfinished. The same book that starts as an exciting little activity becomes a nagging reminder that you failed to reach a goal.

Nobody likes starting a book and failing to finish it. So much so, I suspect, that it discourages us from starting a new one, in fear of not reaching the end. After all, who signs up for a marathon that they don’t expect to finish? Even if you ran an impressive 20 miles, you wouldn’t get the exhilaration of crossing the finish line and the satisfaction of officially achieving a commendable, well-defined goal that other people recognize and admire.

But is reading a book really about reading every single page that someone put between two covers? On principle, I think people would agree reading is about getting exposed to ideas that inform and influence the way we think. Surely, then, we can be done with a book regardless of whether we read it from beginning to end. And if we’ve “finished” the book in this way, shouldn’t we walk away satisfied and guilt-free?

Break Your New Year’s Resolution

Setting a goal number of books to read can foster the habit of reading regularly, a habit we all admire and covet. However, it’s easy to get carried away with trying to make measurable progress at the expense of approaching your actual goal. If you get fixated on officially finishing a book, you might be forgetting why you wanted to read it in the first place. By ditching a book when you feel you’ve had enough of it, you’re staying true to the real reason you set that goal of reading some special number of books by Christmas time.

In Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models by Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann, the authors tell a true story about a government that offered civilians bounty for killing rats in an effort to mitigate the local rat infestation. Specifically, they offered people money for each rat tail they brought in. They figured they could reliably track progress on the pest problem without having to handle the corpses. The plan backfired completely. Crafty entrepreneurs realized that they could capture a rat, cut off its tail, and then release it, so that it would live on to reproduce: more rats, more tails, more money. The pest problem worsened significantly.

But why all the gossip about rodents and dishonest bounty hunters? Well, Weinberg and McCann’s point is that metrics can be counterproductive. In the case of reading books, if you worry too much about how many books you’ve read front-to-back, you stray from your objective of learning and growing. Maybe you should change your metric or add a new one: the number of books checked out of the library, or the number of books you read for at least one hour. Anything that helps you make real progress and not counting rat tails.

Avoid the Sunk-Cost Fallacy

Books aren’t perfect. Many of them are good. Many others are just okay. Sometimes, you benefit by leaving a book unfinished and moving on to another instead of persevering through to the end, regardless of how far you’ve made it. In that case, by quitting the book, you’re overriding a psychological flaw and making a more rational choice.

The sunk-cost fallacy, as defined in Thinking, Fast & Slow by Daniel Kahneman is:

The decision to invest additional resources in a losing account, when better investments are available.

We fall prey to this error when we stick stubbornly with a book just because of the time we’ve already sunk into it. If this book is no longer doing it for you, move on. There are millions of other books and many of them are better than this one. If you can cut your losses and push through the unpleasantness that comes with doing so, you’ve likely made the optimal choice.

Read Other Books

If you feel guilty about not finishing a book you’re currently reading, you probably won’t start a new book. And so, if the book you’re reading loses your interest, you’ll end up losing steam and maybe reading no book at all. Unless it is important to you to finish this specific book, why not move on and keep your momentum going? By leaving a book unfinished and feeling good about it, you allow yourself to start a new book with excitement instead of guilt.

You’re Not Absorbing Much Anymore

We’ve all finished reading a paragraph only to realize that we didn’t absorb much of the information at all. It can happen when we’re having trouble focusing, but it can also happen when you’ve lost interest. That’s okay. It might be time to move on. Life is long, you can come back to this book in some weeks, months, or even years if it’s a book you think is worth reading eventually. By moving on, you are valuing results above all else.

Sacrifice Depth for Breadth

If you learn to ditch books with confidence, you’ll cover more variety of material. I think this is true not only because you start the next book sooner, but also because you avoid the reading slump you’ll inevitably hit when you’ve committed to a book that you have no interest in reading. By moving on to another book, you’re covering more ground when it isn’t worth staying put and drilling down for more.

It’s Not Worth Your Time

You might benefit a lot from a book early on, but less so in later chapters. Perhaps you’ve effectively satisfied your curiosity, or maybe the book’s value is distributed unevenly across its sections. Regardless, you’re facing diminishing returns and the book might not be worth your time anymore. By ditching the book, you’re reacting intelligently to a waning profit.

Conclusion

If we choose to finish a book, let’s make that choice for a good reason, and not because leaving it unfinished feels like failure. Moreover, let’s relish the opportunity to make the smart, if counterintuitive, choice of bailing on a book when it isn’t worth the time. If we overcome the mental hurdles that stop us from ditching a book even when we are justified, we’ll be free to read more widely and engage more deeply.

use of my reading appetite.

thinking about ego and masculinity

Alfred Adler claimed that all problems were interpersonal relationship problems. Freudian psychoanalysts credit childhood trauma and unconscious drives as fundamental. Lately I’ve been thinking about ego and self-image as a gravitational center that grounds our thoughts and behavior. (Ego is an overloaded term and I’ve written about

my sense

what is ego?

#notes #psychology #ego #fear #fantasy #authenticity #insecurity #inadequacy #honesty Mentioned in what I'm doing now

As someone who likes to think and learn about psychology on my free time, here is my understanding of ego.

Ego is a constructed (and therefore false) self that we all build to protect ourselves (our real, raw selves). Therefore, failing to de-identify with your ego is a failure to

exist as yourself

.

But why is ego a false self? Does construction really imply falsehood?

Maybe a more precise distinction is constructed self (ego) v.s. authentic self (real self).

What’s so bad about ego, anyway? Isn’t it just one’s sense of self worth?

I don’t see ego simply as my sense of self worth. I see ego as a set of beliefs about myself that serve to sustain my feelings of worth, security, adequacy, and such. These beliefs rely on fantasy because their purpose is not to be true, but to be useful. The more desperate I am to compensate for feelings of insecurity, worthlessness, and inadequacy, the more I need to fantasize about myself and thus the bigger my ego gets, and the more I must insulate myself from reality to protect my fantasies from crumbling. This insulation is an artificial layer that exists to isolate us from reality and allows us to tamper with evidence on its way into our conscious awareness. The antidote that halts pollution of the self, the liberator that frees the self from this hijacker, is facing one’s fears and insecurities.

Another way to the think of an ego is as a process that does two main things: one, it seeks and feeds on things that your authentic self needs in order to quell fears and insecurities, and, two, it dismisses, ignores, and denies things that stimulate fears and insecurities. Your authentic self and your ego are in a co-dependent relationship. Your ego has too far in “helping” you, and it’s actually enabling self-destructive behavior.

Are you saying that all egos are self-protection mechanisms?

If you have no insecurities to compensate for, why do you need your ego?

of it.)

I think that the ongoing male crisis can be articulated in terms of ego and self-esteem. I suspect the rage many men evidently feel is

self-loathing reflected outward

how to exist

#essays #psychology #ego #fear #maturity #subsconscious #honesty #courage #integrity #insecurity Mentioned in what is ego?, what I'm doing now

Can you trust someone who denies that their subsconsious plays a major role in their life? A good reason to deny your subsconscious is fear of what it contains.

An ego is like a mask that smooths over blemishes and hardens the sensitive spots. It is a tool and a burden. Some egos are so big that they become difficult to remove or distinguish from one’s actual self. If you can’t unmask in private, with a loved one or by yourself, do you still exist? Are you alive?

A big ego is like a great shield that blocks out all – insults, criticism, connection, love, truth. Underneath the shield is a self too fearful to exist. A big ego houses despair and another secret: self-hatred.

Dissociating from your ego allows you to uncover your fears and your stifled self. But before you separate from your ego, you must believe you can exist without it. You must have courage. And you must want to exist without it. You must want integrity.

A person who claims to have an insignificant subsconscious is either a liar or a person of great integrity. And what are the odds that one has no internal conflicts awaiting resolution?

in a desperate attempt at self-preservation. These people are struggling for viable ways to exist.

When I first learned of Andrew Tate’s popularity with boys and young men, I was not only dismayed but surprised. Don’t we know better already? But misogyny is not simply a problem of ignorance. It and other expressions of violence are tools for acting out feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. To get rid of these kinds of abhorrent behavior, we have to address the source of the problem.

Instead of offering gender-agnostic advice for self-actualization, Christine Emba, like psychotherapist Stephen A. Shapiro in the past, is trying to champion positive, overtly masculine roles:

In my ideal, the mainstream could embrace a model that acknowledges male particularity and difference but doesn’t denigrate women to do so. It’s a vision of gender that’s not androgynous but still equal, and relies on character, not just biology. And it acknowledges that certain themes — protector, provider, even procreator — still resonate with many men and should be worked with, not against.

I wonder whether this is an ideal towards which we should strive or whether it is merely a stepping stone aiming to stabilize male self-esteem as it approaches an ultimate destination. No matter where we are on this journey, it needs to be somewhere where the male ego doesn’t feel in danger. Because, if it does, men will return again and again to the familiar coping strategy of domination, which miraculously assuages their fear of the deepest inferiority: worthlessness.

writing

Most of what I’ve

written

the blue note

#journal #live-music #nyc Mentioned in concerts, nyc trip, what I'm doing now

Compared to The Village Vanguard, The Blue Note was a bit embarrassing. Doors open two hours before showtime, giving guests ample time to meet their $20 minimum. Accordingly, we showed up with plenty of time to have dinner before the show. However, after we wriggled and hopscotched into seats at the claustrophobically crammed tables, we found out that the main dishes themselves – and even some appetizers – start at $20 and reach comfortably past the upper $30s. (As I write this and look on The Blue Note’s website to check my memory, I notice the online menu omits the prices.) With more than an hour until showtime, we decided Z and Coco would go out for food elsewhere in Greenwich Village and I would stay and have dinner there.

A few minutes before showtime, I went upstairs to the bathroom and stumbled upon a gift shop because of course they had a gift shop. On the way back to my seat, I overheard a conversation at the till. Your total is $75. After a short silence, during which, I presume, the customer looked down at the two items on the counter, blinked, and looked back up: How much is each item?

At least the show was good. The drummer, who apparently tours with Alicia Keys, was amazing. Gleefully he battered the kit with urgency unabating as if he were Tom and the groove Jerry. Between songs, Terrace took his time telling stories and teasing his bandmates. Halfway through the set, he announced his guest, whose name might not ring many bells, but has been inscribed on several Grammies for cowriting hits like Bruno Mars’s That’s What I Like and Justin Timberlake’s Pusher Love Girl. For two people in the audience the name rang not a bell but a gong, and when Terrace hesitated during the introduction, one of them cried out The GOAT! Terrace nodded and confirmed, the GOAT… James Fauntleroy! Out shuffled a man befitting his all-but-pop-star status: a short, chubby man wearing thick-framed glasses, a hawaiian shirt, and striped jogging pants.

recently

bushwick

#journal #travel #cities #gentrification #nyc Mentioned in nyc trip, what I'm doing now

One of our intentions for visiting NYC was to test our interest in moving there. It’s easy to fantasize, but would we actually like living there? And if so, where, in particular?

For the first three nights, Z and I stayed in an Airbnb in the southern corner of Bushwick, between Broadway and Bushwick Ave. It was obvious immediately that the area would be far too noisy for our dog, Baxter. He is generally frightened by noise and would be reduced to a quivering lump by the thunder and shriek of the subway that runs above Broadway.

The location was great for our trip, though. Within walking distance we had plenty of bars, coffee shops, restaurants, convenience stores, and even a small comedy club. It was easy to have an eventful first night despite having arrived at the Airbnb at 9pm, tired after a long day of travel from Seattle. Also within walking distance were subway stations for the J, L, A, & C lines, which made it easy to get around Brooklyn and into Manhattan on the two days following.

Bushwick, according to my friend who lives there, is the hip, artsy neighborhood that Williamsburg was ten years ago, before it fell into the sterilizing grasp of corporations. Bushwick is gentrifying though, and walking east to west through the heart of the neighborhood you can see the process unfolding.

On Saturday afternoon we came up out of Myrtle-Wyckoff station onto a small pedestrian strip crowded with carts and market stalls selling a variety of Latin American street food to Latino families. We’d left the noise of the L underground, but on street level cars honked, music blared, people called and chattered, and the M ran overhead. As we walked west on Knickerbocker Ave towards Maria Hernandez Park, we started noticing trendy-looking delis among the Mexican and Central American restaurants, and the unmistakable presence of young, white tote-carriers like us.

Despite this, the neighborhood looked no less gritty and industrial. Until the sudden sign of corporate investment. It announced itself when we wandered into the “Shops at the Loom,” in the form of a semi-deserted lobby furnished with tufted leather chairs that looked brand new, or at least unused. The lobby made no more sense the farther walked into the building, past several closed offices and a surprising lack of shops. We tried the door to a vintage clothing store, but it was locked. Finally we came to a cafe where a young woman was singing and playing acoustic guitar. It was occuppied sparsely and mostly by people that seemed to know the singer. In the corner opposite the counter was a table of free kombucha and “elixirs,” attended distractedly by one of the artsy entourage. I couldn’t spot an exit to the street. Had everyone come in through the lobby and down the winding hallway?

It felt, as corporate-subsidized spaces often do, like a fake place, a place designed remotely from a real estate office rather than one developed and maintained by people that spend time there. A cursory internet search confirms it. The building belongs to Bushburg:

An integrated real estate development and management company investing in transformative projects that create long-term value in emerging markets.

Or, in fewer words, gentrifiers incorporated.

Ventures like these feel the ickiest because their sole aim is, literally, to capitalize on a place. And it shows in the lifelessness of the spaces they create, which neither exist for the people that inhabit them nor belong to them. They offer what they must in order to extract value efficiently, and no more. Why would they? These places don’t have to be meaningful to anybody, they just have to perform as an economic resource.

Less than a mile from where I live in Seattle is South Lake Union, a prime example of a city district too smothered by corporate investment to have life. It’s a disheartening place to be in. But at least escape is possible on foot. Bellevue, a quasi-city on the other side of Lake Washington, is even worse. Its skyscrapers suggest citylife but amount to little more than vertical suburbs with convenient access to corporate offices and a high-end mall. The entire place feels manufactured.

It’s easy to oppose and despise this aspect of gentrification, but what about the aspects that attract people like me? Places that I love, too, are responsible for driving up the cost of living in the areas they inhabit. Near the Loom in Bushwick are two places now among my favorites in New York: SEY Coffee and Roberta’s. And while these places are wonderful and, I think, worthy contributions to the local culture, they are also catalysts for the displacement of locals, a necessary step in the process of making space for people who can and want to pay more to live in the area. People like me.

In fact, it is precisely corporate real estate companies that make it feasible for an influx of people like me to settle in the area. (Work in progress / to be continued)

has to do with New York, but I also finally wrote a review of

The Passenger

The Passenger (2022)

by Cormac McCarthy

#reviews #books #fiction #literature Mentioned in Stella Maris (2022), what I'm doing now, how to write like Cormac McCarthy, what I'm doing now, what I'm doing now

This novel is like a long, restless dream about a man paralyzed by his guilt and his grief. Along one plotline tension builds, but then neither resolves nor dissipates completely. It remains an anonymous threat hanging over the protagonist’s head, a darkling mystery suspended, never precipitating. It’s a confounding book, and one that I would be thrilled to see adapted into film by David Lynch.

It is never clear who is after the protagonist, Bobby, or why. It seems at first related to his presence at a suspicious scene in a sunken airplane, which he encountered while working as a salvage diver. Later, it seems that anonymous authorities are after his father’s old papers. Mysterious men pay periodic visits and ask questions. Some of Bobby’s belongings are stolen. His cat disappears. His car get confiscated. The persecution seems operated through the US government, but it’s carried out obliquely and underhandedly.

Regardless, Bobby lives his life as if in penance. He is stuck in limbo, confined by his apparent ambivalence towards life, which has him constantly approaching and evading danger, all the while awaiting his death. He camps out for a while in a shed near a deserted beach. When his stalkers seem to be closing in, he flees from New Orleans to Idaho and squats in a derelict house in the freezing cold. In the end, he settles in the southern coast of Spain, holed up in a windmill with a crumbling roof. In the quiet of these exiles, without the comfort of shared food, drink, and conversation, the pitch of his grief reaches shrieking, hallucinatory levels, setting the stage for quasi-spiritual moments of revelation.

The most potent aspect of this book is probably its mood, which reflects the hopeless remorse that Bobby feels. Remorse for the unholy devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that his father and mother helped engineer. Regret for his helplessness before the great mysteries of mathematics and physical science. In these Bobby seems to bear the burden not just for himself and his family, but for all of humanity. Principally, however, Bobby’s remorse and grief are for his inability to prevent his sister’s suicide and their inability to enact the deep, incestuous love between them.

Throughout the book, Cormac depicts Bobby’s agonizing internal conflict regarding his feelings for his sister. Here, from page 184, is one of the most memorable:

In his dreams of her she wore at times a smile he tried to remember and she would say to him almost in a chant words he could scarcely follow. He knew that her lovely face would soon exist nowhere save in his memories and in his dreams and soon after that nowhere at all. She came in half nude trailing sarsenet or perhaps just her Grecian sheeting crossing a stone stage in the smoking footlamps or she would push back the cowl of her robe and her blonde hair would fall about her face as she bent to him where he lay in the damp and clammy sheets and whisper to him I’d have been your shadowlane, the keeper of that house alone wherein your soul is safe. And all the while a clangor like the labor of a foundry and dark figures in silhouette about the alchemic fires, the ash and the smoke. The floor lay littered with the stillborn forms of their efforts and still they labored on, the raw halfsentient mud quivering red in the autoclave. In that dusky penetralium they press about the crucible shoving and gibbering while the deep heresiarch dark in his folded cloak urges them on in their efforts. And then what thing unspeakable is this raised dripping up through crust and calyx from what hellish marinade. He woke sweating and switched on the bedlamp and swung his feet to the floor and sat with his face in his hands. Dont be afraid for me, she had written. When has death ever harmed anyone?

The prose is a major reason I keep picking up books written by McCarthy. Who else

writes like this

?

Here, from pages 115 and 116, is another striking example of McCarthy’s prose – a description of the scenes following the dropping of the atomic bombs in Japan:

There were people who escaped from Hiroshima and rushed to Nagasaki to see that their loved ones were safe. Arriving just in time to be incinerated. He went there after the war with a team of scientists. My father. He said that everything was rusty. Everything looked covered with rust. There were burnt-out shells of trolleycars standing in the streets. The glass melted out of the sashes and pooled on the bricks. Seated on the blackened springs the charred skeletons of the passengers with their clothes and hair gone and their bones hung with blackened strips of flesh. Their eyes boiled from their sockets. Lips and noses burned away. Sitting in their seats laughing. The living walked about but there was no place to go. They waded by the thousands into the river and died there. They were like insects in that no one direction was preferable to another. Burning people crawled among the corpses like some horror in a vast crematorium. They simply thought that the world had ended. It hardly even occurred to them that it had anything to do with the war. They carried their skin bundled up in their arms before them like wash that it not drag in the rubble and ash and they passed one another mindlessly on their mindless journeyings over the smoking afterground, the sighted no better served than the blind. Those who survived would often remember these horrors with a certain aesthetic to them. In that mycoidal phantom blooming in the dawn like an evil lotus and in the melting of solid not heretofore known to do so stood a truth that would silence poetry a thousand years. Like an immense bladder, they would say. Like some sea thing. Wobbling slightly on the near horizon. Then the unspeakable noise. They saw birds in the dawn sky ignite and explode soundlessly and fall in long arcs earthward like burning party favors.

McCarthy doesn’t make it clear what “truth” the mushroom cloud embodied, but it is certainly not a comforting one.

Later, on pages 175 and 176, he describes a factory where uranium was prepared for the bombs:

His mother was nineteen when she went to work at Y-12, the electromagnetic separation plant. One of the three processes for the separation of the uranium 235 isotope. The workers were driven out to the compound in buses, bumping over the rough graded road, through dust or mud given the weather. Talking was not allowed. The barbed wire fencing ran for miles and the buildings were of solid concrete, massive things, monolithic and for the most part windowless. They sat in a great selvage of raw mud beyond which lay a perimeter of the wrecked and twisted trees that had been bulldozed from the site. She said it looked as if they had just somehow emerged out of the ground. The buildings. There was no accounting for them. She looked at the other women on the bus but they seemed to have abandoned themselves and she thought that she might be the only one of them that while she did not know what this was about knew all too well that it was Godless and that while it had poisoned back to elemental mud all living things upon that ground yet it was far from being done. It was just the beginning.

The buildings held over one thousand miles of pipe and a quarter million valves. The women sat on stools and monitored the dials in front of them while uranium atoms raced the tracks in the calutrons. Measuring them a hundred thousand times each second. The magnets that propelled them were seven feet in diameter and the windings were of solid silver fabricated from fiteen thousands tons of it borrowed from the US Treasury because all the copper had already gone into the war effort. An older woman told her that the first day with the women all at their stations and having no least notion what any of this was about the engineers had thrown the consecutive switches and an enormous dynamo hum filled the hall and hairpins in their hundreds shot from the women’s heads and crossed the room like hornets.

That last sentence is exquisitely crafted. A tremendously vivid scene realized in fifty eight words assembled fluidly without any interrupting punctuation.

, the first of Cormac McCarthy’s last

two

Stella Maris (2022)

by Cormac McCarthy

#reviews #books #fiction #literature #philosophy #mathematics #science #subconscious #mortality Mentioned in what I'm doing now, what I'm doing now, what I'm doing now

I’m 120 pages into this book and so far it has consisted purely of dialogue between a psychiatrist and a patient who has voluntarily checked herself in. Dialogue between these two I expect will fill the rest of the book. It’s an exciting endeavor to witness Cormac attempt.

He published this book alongside

The Passenger

in 2022 as a “companion novel” known also as The Passenger #2. I tried this one first though because among its topics are math and philosophy. It is set chronologically after The Passenger, but my impression, assembled from fragments of scantily skimmed book summaries, is that reading them in either order is fine.

(Even more than novel summaries I avoid movie trailers. They reveal far too much. I’d be happy to watch them if instead of crudely summarizing the story and undermining its telling they showed a short sample of the movie. A scene at most and no more.)

This book is clearly a product of the years Cormac spent at the Santa Fe Institute (SFI) in conversation with scientists and researchers discussing consciousness, mathematics, physics, language, and philosophy. Much of what the protagonist Alicia says – about the unconscious, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, mathematics – Cormac himself says in conversation with SFI’s President David Krakauer in this interview from 2017. The interview is good companion material to the companion novel.

This book reminds me of another, which I intend to return to when I finish this one: A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality, in which a philosopher lying on her deathbed argues with her friend against the likelihood of an afterlife. In Stella Maris death also looms – not just over the protagonist but also its author. Cormac died six months after this final publication.

novels. I also wrote a

fourth entry

how to coordinate metaphors #4

#notes #imagery #cohesiveness #writing Mentioned in what I'm doing now

In her New Yorker article about suspense, Kathryn Schulz uses a clever image to describe how suspense exists at many scales.

Suspense does not derive only from the machinations of plot. Instead, it is what you might call fractal: it can be fostered at every level, from a seven-season TV series all the way down to a chapter, a paragraph, a scene, or even a silence.

Her choice of the word fractal conjures, for me at least, the kaleidoscopic image of triangles within triangles within triangles, ad infinitum. She then applies the image onto her subject, suspense in storytelling, which is a neat way to depict it as occuring at scales spanning from large to minute.

There is one wrinkle, though. The word fostered. It’s not the right word. How does one foster a fractal? I suppose one can foster suspense, but that’s not a particularly strong match either. Regardless, we are in the middle of likening suspense to fractals, so whatever word we choose should coordinate with the image of fractals, or at least not clash with it.

Some alternatives to fostered that come to mind are replicated, recreated, reproduced, repeated. But a simple applied will serve as well:

Suspense does not derive only from the machinations of plot. Instead, it is what you might call fractal: it can be applied at every level, from a seven-season TV series all the way down to a chapter, a paragraph, a scene, or even a silence.

Not as fancy as fostered, but more precise, I think.

in my series of how to coordinate metaphors.

traveling

Z and I went to Tofino with my family for a week to celebrate my mom’s birthday. We spent time together, ate great meals, surfed on beautiful beaches, hung out at a wonderful airbnb near the heart of town, spent a day in an outdoor spa in a private cove lounging in hot tubs filled with seaweed, and even saw the Northern Lights. Z and I want to go back.

A week later, Z and I went to

NYC

nyc trip

#journal #travel #cities #nyc Mentioned in what I'm doing now

During the week that Z & I were there, we saw friends, shopped, attended comedy & jazz shows, visited museums, drank lots of coffee, ate lots of pizza, walked, biked, rode the subway, took the ferry, and wondered where in the city we might want to live.

Friday 05/17/2024 – Bushwick

  • 9:30am flight SEA -> NYC
  • Lyft from Newark to Bushwick airbnb
  • food & drinks at Salud bar and resto
  • comedy show @ Tiny Cupboard Comedy Club
  • drinks + nachos + arcade games @ All Night Skate

Despite having arrived at the Airbnb at 9pm, tired after a long day of travel from Seattle, it was easy to have an eventful first night. Within walking distance of the airbnb were plenty of bars, coffee shops, restaurants, convenience stores, and even a small comedy club.

Saturday 05/18/2024 – Bushwick

& Greenwich Village

  • 12pm coffee at Covert Coffee
  • walk on Myrtle then Knickerbocker Ave
  • came across singer songwriter at Crossroads Cafe
  • browse 28 Scott Vintage; Z bought loafers, necklace, and ring
  • pop into Urban Jungle AKA L Train Vintage across the street
  • great cappuccino and tea @ SEY coffee
  • great pizza for dinner @ Roberta’s
  • mini-nap @ Bushwick airbnb
  • train to Greenwich Village, walk, end up at St Tropez for drinks & appetizer
  • Kurt Rosenwinkel @ Village Vanguard

Also within walking distance of the airbnb were subway stations for the J, L, A, & C lines, which made it easy to get around Brooklyn and into Manhattan on the two days following.

The Village Vanguard was well worth visiting. Not only is it a historic jazz venue, but their minimum purchase is just one drink. Kurt Rosenwinkel and his band were great.

Sunday 05/19/2024 – Fort Greene, Park Slope, and Bushwick

  • coffee at The Daily Press
  • train to FreeFancy in Fort Greene for last Arsenal match of the year; bar was packed
  • brunch @ Olea, on patio
  • Hungry Ghost for cappuccino
  • walk down 5th Ave in Park Slope: thrift & vintage stores; book shop; stumbled across 5th Ave Street Fair
  • walked to G train to meet Brett but took wrong train, ended up in Manhattan; rerouted to Williamsburg easily enough though
  • dinner at Limosneros in Williamsburg with our friend Brett, disappointing food and cocktails
  • train back to Bushwick airbnb to rest
  • meet our friends Eva, Vince, & Adi @ Tiny Cupboard Comedy Club
  • drinks & shuffleboard @ The Evergreen, which was very quiet
  • drinks @ Purgatory, a cool bar

Especially compared with the noisiness and grittiness of Bushwick, Fort Greene and Park Slope’s tree-lined streets and brownstones were stunning. The affluence of this part of Brooklyn is obvious. Its peace and prettiness, however, comes at the cost of Bushwick’s personality.

Monday 05/20/2024 – Bushwick

& Astoria

  • checked out of Bushwick airbnb @ 11am
  • coffee @ Covert again
  • lyft to Brett’s in Bushwick to drop off luggage and see his place; Eva, Vince, & Adi joined us there
  • walk to The Bad Bagel for brunch
  • Bushwick market, bought a chain
  • good cappuccino @ Hala Coffee
  • walk back to Brett’s; stop @ Lazy Suzy for good coffee
  • go on rooftop of Brett’s apt blg, which was super cool
  • say bye to Adi, drive with Eva and Vince to Astoria airbnb
  • went for dinner @ Blue Sea Taverna
  • walk back to Astoria airbnb, greet Z’s friend Coco when she arrived

Astoria is not stunning to look at, but certainly more handsome than Bushwick. It is also, apparently, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world, with a particularly strong Greek presence. English comprised only a modest share of the languages we overheard people speaking in the area. This excerpt, from Jan Morris’s splendid ode to the wild vibrancy of Manhattan (1979), rang true:

Manhattan long ago abandoned its melting-pot function. Nobody even tries to Americanize the Lebanese or the Lithuanians now, and indeed the ethnic enclaves of the island seem to me to become more potently ethnic each time I visit the place.

Tuesday 05/21/2024 – Astoria, SoHo, The High Line, & Bowery

  • solo coffee @ Olive Coffee (decent cappuccino), Under Pressure Coffee (bad cappuccino), & finally Kinship (good cappuccino)
  • met Eva, Vince, Coco, & Zyan at Astoria blvd station, then we trained to SoHo
  • shopped at The ReShop & Classic Football Shirts pop-up shop
  • browsed high end furniture @ Orior
  • trained to Highline; got drinks and walked on Highline to Hudson Yards
  • said goodbye to Eva & Vince
  • dinner with friends @ Spicy Moon in Bowery
  • good cocktails @ Banzarbar with Zyan and Coco
  • train to Astoria airbnb

There wasn’t as much to see in Astoria’s center as I anticipated. Shopping in SoHo, on the other hand, impressed me. The Highline was as pretty and as busy as I remember it. Bowery has some good spots.

Wednesday 05/22/2024 – Astoria, East River, FiDi, NoHo, Lower East Side, & Midtown

  • solo coffee @ INFINITEA, good flat white and onigiri
  • accompanied Z & Coco while they ate @ BZ Grill
  • walked to Astoria terminal and took ferry to Wall St
  • coffee @ Black Fox
  • Coco went to Brooklyn Bridge on her own; Z and I trained to Noho, looked at stores on our own: Adidas, Sabah, Dashwood Books, modernlink danish furniture store
  • I walked alone through Lower East side
  • we ate dinner at Fish Cheeks at a terrace table in the cobblestone street
  • trained to Times Square for Wicked musical @ Gershwin Theatre
  • trained to Astoria, walked on Broadway, got slices @ Champion Pizza
  • trained back to airbnb

The ferry was great. Cheap, easy, and quiet. The views were great and various. In FiDi I was shocked at the quantity of tourists. We only went there because it was the ferry’s terminus, but it was interesting to see it after reading Jane Jacobs’s critique of it in

The Death & Life of Great American Cities

and The New Yorker’s recent article about the conversion of Wall Street office towers into apartment buildings.

The Lower East Side was charming, and it was memorable to eat outside on Bond Street, but the food was pricey. Wicked, the Broadway show, was as good as I remember it being when I saw it fifteen years ago. At night we explored Astoria some more, but still did not feel inspired by it.

Thursday 05/23/2024 – Astoria, Midtown, Greenwich Village

  • solo coffee @ INFINITEA again
  • train to manhattan with Z & Coco
  • cappuccino @ Inés
  • MoMA
  • lunch @ La Esquina nearby
  • flat white @ Partner Coffee
  • MoMA again
  • train to Greenwich Village for Terrace Martin & James Fauntleroy show @ Blue Note
  • cocktails at Maestro Pasta nearby
  • slices from Percy’s pizza
  • train to Astoria airbnb

Revisited INFINITEA and sat again at the table on the sidewalk, looking out on to the street. It was a delightful way to start the day, and I repeated again for the next two days. I’m glad I went to the MoMA while Z & Coco went to the Met. I love walking around museums alone, listening to my music. This time it occurred to me to leave after a couple hours, have a meal, a coffee, and come back. I think I’ll be adding that to my museum routine. Several restaurants in the area give a discount if you show them your MoMA ticket.

Compared to the Village Vanguard, the

Blue Note

was a bit embarrassing. Afterwards, walking through Greenwich Village at night, I felt like I was in an amusement park – the heat, the neon signs, people in every direction walking and talking, going into and out of venues, bars and restaurants spilling out onto sidewalk patios. We got cocktails and then slices to go. It was a quiet thrill.

Friday 05/24/2024 – Astoria, SoHo, Tribeca, Hudson River Greenway, Greenwich Village

  • solo coffee @ INFINITEA again
  • train with Z to SoHo
  • bought patchworked Carhartt jacket @ The Reshop
  • met up with Z, Coco, & Thomas @ Canal Market, where I had a burrito & cappuccino
  • visit Classic Football Shirts pop-up shop again
  • walk to Tribeca
  • solo train back to SoHo to pick up jacket
  • solo beer on covered patio @ Toad Hall
  • train to meet up with Z, Coco, & Thomas
  • free friday admission to Whitney Museum
  • walk south along the water while the sun set
  • dinner @ Jajaja vegan Mexican resto with friends
  • 10:45pm show @ Comedy Cellar
  • train back to Astoria airbnb

I had no intention of shopping during the trip, but I found great stuff in SoHo. As a kid, soccer jerseys comprised

much of my wardrobe

and in my eyes they still hold a special allure.

Saturday 05/25/2024 – Astoria & Ditmars Steinway

  • solo coffee @ INFINITEA again
  • brunch @ Anassa Taverna
  • solo walk to Ditmars Steinway
  • good cappuccino @ Mighty Oak Roasters
  • continue solo walk through Ditmars Steinway
  • met up with Z, Coco, & Thomas for ice cream @ Van Leeuwen
  • ride citi bikes down to Astoria Park, along water, and back to Astoria airbnb
  • take train + LIRR + Airtrain to JFK

Our last day was unexpectedly memorable. We walked up through Ditmars Steinway and took Citi Bikes to Astoria Park and rode them along the water. We liked it so much that we looped around and did it again before heading back for our bags to go to the airport.

I found Ditmars Steinway charming enough that I wondered if we might look for apartments there if we ever move to New York. It seems to strike a great balance between peacefulness and liveliness. I’m sure many New Yorkers would scoff or snort if I suggested it is an accessible location, but in its center is the Astoria-Ditmars Blvd station, from which runs the N through Astoria, into and all the way down Manhattan, into Brooklyn and all the way through to Coney Island. Bushwick, however, is not on that path, and would be painful to reach. Looking at the subway map, it’s clear the routes were designed primarily for commute in and out of Manhattan.

to affirm our suspicion that we would like to live there before we have kids. I have a bad habit of winging trips, but in the month leading up to this one I dedicated good hours to research and planning. The time spent was well worth it, rendering some of the most memorable experiences of the trip: Comedy Cellar, Village Vanguard,

Blue Note

the blue note

#journal #live-music #nyc Mentioned in concerts, nyc trip, what I'm doing now

Compared to The Village Vanguard, The Blue Note was a bit embarrassing. Doors open two hours before showtime, giving guests ample time to meet their $20 minimum. Accordingly, we showed up with plenty of time to have dinner before the show. However, after we wriggled and hopscotched into seats at the claustrophobically crammed tables, we found out that the main dishes themselves – and even some appetizers – start at $20 and reach comfortably past the upper $30s. (As I write this and look on The Blue Note’s website to check my memory, I notice the online menu omits the prices.) With more than an hour until showtime, we decided Z and Coco would go out for food elsewhere in Greenwich Village and I would stay and have dinner there.

A few minutes before showtime, I went upstairs to the bathroom and stumbled upon a gift shop because of course they had a gift shop. On the way back to my seat, I overheard a conversation at the till. Your total is $75. After a short silence, during which, I presume, the customer looked down at the two items on the counter, blinked, and looked back up: How much is each item?

At least the show was good. The drummer, who apparently tours with Alicia Keys, was amazing. Gleefully he battered the kit with urgency unabating as if he were Tom and the groove Jerry. Between songs, Terrace took his time telling stories and teasing his bandmates. Halfway through the set, he announced his guest, whose name might not ring many bells, but has been inscribed on several Grammies for cowriting hits like Bruno Mars’s That’s What I Like and Justin Timberlake’s Pusher Love Girl. For two people in the audience the name rang not a bell but a gong, and when Terrace hesitated during the introduction, one of them cried out The GOAT! Terrace nodded and confirmed, the GOAT… James Fauntleroy! Out shuffled a man befitting his all-but-pop-star status: a short, chubby man wearing thick-framed glasses, a hawaiian shirt, and striped jogging pants.

, Whitney Museum (for free), Tiny Cupboard Comedy Club, Roberta’s, and SEY coffee. Some of these I booked in advance, and the others I was aware of and pounced on when the opportunity arose.

We recently also spent a weekend with friends at an airbnb in Lake Cowichan. The weather was a bit disappointing, but we had a great time hanging out in and around the hot tub.

working

I’ve delivered some good results at work recently. My tasks continue to be interesting and plenty. However, it looks like my next promotion, which I was expecting in September, won’t happen until December. I’m disappointed, but when I reflect on it carefully, I notice it’s not that important. By no means do I need to be promoted. It’s alluring because it’s a quantifiable and salient achievement. But it’s not important one.

coding

Spotify again rejected my request for an extended quota. I emailed them back asking to speak to a real person. No response. It looks like it’s going to be difficult to make my app available to all Spotify premium users, unfortunately. That project will sit on the backburner for a while.

As for my other recent programming project – this site – I have some interesting new ideas. To encourage myself to

revise and rework posted pieces

what is this site? #2

#notes #writing Mentioned in what I'm doing now

In

November

I posted my first /now update and since then I have posted three more. This new practice has had a couple of nice side effects.

It has encouraged me to review the “What’s Next?” section to see what intentions I had a month or two prior. It’s easy to forget. If it doesn’t reorient me to worthy goals, it amuses me to notice the bias of my intentions at the time I wrote my update.

The self-imposed task of writing periodic “now” updates has also encouraged me to write about seemingly mundane events like a weekend trip to the

Harrison Hot Springs

. I’ve come to love vignettes like these, and have found joy in their realization from ordinary life. This is one of the outcomes of my

serendipitous exposure

to New Journalism.

I want to be intentional and careful with how I approach writing on this site. I caught myself fretting about posting unrefined pieces like

going for a walk

and

Vieux Farka Touré

and wondering whether tweaking and updating them retroactively was cheating. No no no. Part of my vision for this site, this writing project, is that it not unconsciously inherit the

conventions and constraints of print media

. This writing project is digital, and thus can be reshaped and rewritten in totality with little effort.

If I choose to tweak, fix, gut, trash, or transform a piece, it’s not only ok, it’s the point.

, I want to re-order posts by their most recently edited date rather than their original publish date. That way, I could breathe new life into old ideas that I failed to do justice on initial attempt and baptize them again as new pieces. This aligns with the dynamic aspect of my

virtual book

what is a virtual book?

#notes #writing #mediums Mentioned in On Writing (2000), what is this site?, what is this site? #2, what I'm doing now

I wrote an essay called The Virtual Book but I never defined the term. By virtual book I mean a book unbound by the traditional and physical constraints of printed books. I say ‘virtual’ because the greatest possibilities I see are in the virtual world of computers. Ebooks and audiobooks are just the beginning. The possibilities that excite me challenge not only the physicality of books but also their more subtle attributes.

A virtual book can be multi-media. It can consist of words, images, video, audio. There, we got the obvious one out of the way.

A virtual book can be reader-driven. Instead of forcing readers to follow the author’s thought process, a virtual book can let each reader steer the way. Wikipedia does this already. It lets you search the page for keywords, skip to the section you’re interested in, and even escape into a tangential topic, never to return. This is a natural way to consume Wikipedia because its form affords it.

Books generally have one start and one ending, but a virtual book can be non-linear. Wikipedia is again the obvious example. But letting the reader drive is only one way to create a non-linear book. It’s also possible to create multiple entrypoints, or even multiple endings, like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

A virtual book can be dynamic. It can change after its initial creation. Printed books, on the other hand, are static snapshots laboriously rendered by a particular author at a particular time. But what if a theory is debunked? Or a hypothesis confirmed? Or a record shattered? Or, in the case of story-telling, what if a loose end can be tied up neatly?

A virtual book can be non-monolithic. It does not need to be discrete or self-contained. It can consist of many interconnected parts that make up the whole but can exist without it. It can reference other virtual books, borrow bits from them, and lend bits of its own. For example, if Herbie Hancock’s memoir was a virtual audiobook, it could allow its snippets to be reconstrued into a documentary about jazz. (If Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary series was also ‘virtualized’, it could have been updated 15 years after its release to include bits of Herbie’s narration.) In fact, it could provide material for documentaries about many different topics: jazz, funk, hip hop, Miles Davis, Black Nationalism, Nichiren Buddhism, meditation, and crack addictions, to name some of the obvious ones.

A virtual book can be responsive. What if a reader could expect a book to field spontaneous questions? ChatGPT is an obvious candidate here, but the possibility is broader. What if Herbie Hancock returned to his memoir every now and then to answer questions that readers had left behind while reading it? What if readers could raise flags on issues that fact-checkers would then verify or return to the author for amendment?

The possibilities are plenty, and they are thrilling. The difficulty in realizating them is not technological, but legal and political. Powerful companies – and therefore governments – are hugely incentivized to prevent the free exchange of “intellectual property”. To make virtual books possible, we need not only the technological power of software, but also its progressive politics.


Dedicated to Aaron Swartz.

idea. A related idea I have for this site is to let (hypothetical) readers see past versions of each post, in the spirit of what I wrote in my essay

The Virtual Book

what is a virtual book?

#notes #writing #mediums Mentioned in On Writing (2000), what is this site?, what is this site? #2, what I'm doing now

I wrote an essay called The Virtual Book but I never defined the term. By virtual book I mean a book unbound by the traditional and physical constraints of printed books. I say ‘virtual’ because the greatest possibilities I see are in the virtual world of computers. Ebooks and audiobooks are just the beginning. The possibilities that excite me challenge not only the physicality of books but also their more subtle attributes.

A virtual book can be multi-media. It can consist of words, images, video, audio. There, we got the obvious one out of the way.

A virtual book can be reader-driven. Instead of forcing readers to follow the author’s thought process, a virtual book can let each reader steer the way. Wikipedia does this already. It lets you search the page for keywords, skip to the section you’re interested in, and even escape into a tangential topic, never to return. This is a natural way to consume Wikipedia because its form affords it.

Books generally have one start and one ending, but a virtual book can be non-linear. Wikipedia is again the obvious example. But letting the reader drive is only one way to create a non-linear book. It’s also possible to create multiple entrypoints, or even multiple endings, like Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

A virtual book can be dynamic. It can change after its initial creation. Printed books, on the other hand, are static snapshots laboriously rendered by a particular author at a particular time. But what if a theory is debunked? Or a hypothesis confirmed? Or a record shattered? Or, in the case of story-telling, what if a loose end can be tied up neatly?

A virtual book can be non-monolithic. It does not need to be discrete or self-contained. It can consist of many interconnected parts that make up the whole but can exist without it. It can reference other virtual books, borrow bits from them, and lend bits of its own. For example, if Herbie Hancock’s memoir was a virtual audiobook, it could allow its snippets to be reconstrued into a documentary about jazz. (If Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary series was also ‘virtualized’, it could have been updated 15 years after its release to include bits of Herbie’s narration.) In fact, it could provide material for documentaries about many different topics: jazz, funk, hip hop, Miles Davis, Black Nationalism, Nichiren Buddhism, meditation, and crack addictions, to name some of the obvious ones.

A virtual book can be responsive. What if a reader could expect a book to field spontaneous questions? ChatGPT is an obvious candidate here, but the possibility is broader. What if Herbie Hancock returned to his memoir every now and then to answer questions that readers had left behind while reading it? What if readers could raise flags on issues that fact-checkers would then verify or return to the author for amendment?

The possibilities are plenty, and they are thrilling. The difficulty in realizating them is not technological, but legal and political. Powerful companies – and therefore governments – are hugely incentivized to prevent the free exchange of “intellectual property”. To make virtual books possible, we need not only the technological power of software, but also its progressive politics.


Dedicated to Aaron Swartz.

last year:

What if a memoirist publishes a piece overlaid with their revisions to show the process of expression and expose the artifice of memoir? … What if a novelist publishes a first-person novel in real time to make it feel like the character really exists and is experiencing events alongside the reader? What if the author then goes back and rewrites previous parts of the novel to show the decay of memory and its corruption in the construction of personal narratives?

One of my core interests, and one of the core passions behind this site, is the process of writing. Interfaces that illuminate and accentuate that process intrigue me.

watching TV

Peep Show. Second watch. So funny.

Curb Your Enthusiasm. Hilarious. Like Peep Show, soothing with its insanity.

Baby Reindeer, which was haunting, disturbing, and fantastic.

Welcome to Wrexham. S3 is less ambitious, but still good.

House of the Dragon. Good not great. Rewatched S1 in preparation for S2, which is currently airing.

Fantasmas. Unsettling in a very effective way, like a hyper-pop Black Mirror. Wonderfully weird and delightfully non-linear. By now I know I am a sucker for tangential and episodic storytelling.

watching movies

Dream Scenario. Unsettling. I kept oscillating between sympathy and disgust for the main character, which I think is the point. Ultimately, however, it didn’t seem to have a cogent point to make. Or maybe I missed it.

Challengers. Very entertaining. I loved the toxic triangle between the three main characters: one chooses to be dominated, one needs to dominate, and one dominates himself to preclude others doing it. The codependence and power dynamics rang true until they fell a bit flat towards the end.

Radical Wolfe, documentary about writer Tom Wolfe (and former colleague of Gloria Steinem at New York magazine). Somewhat entertaining but suspiciously uncritical, as biopics and posthumous documentary tributes tend to be.


what’s next?

Enjoying the rare and splendid sunny days of PNW summer. Biking, paddleboarding, playing soccer, volleyball with friends.

I’m curious about playing goalkeeper for a new team. I’ve been an outfield player exclusively for years, but I used to play goalie part-time and fill in when needed. I miss it a bit. And goalies are always in demand, so it should be an easy way to get more playing time. Hopefully I’m not overestimating my skills in net. I think I’ll find out soon.

Cap Hill Block Party. Excited about seeing Chappell Roan, who is apparently great to see live.

Visit PEI, before Z’s mom and stepdad sell the house they have on the beach there.