Kismet

KISMET

I am in the middle of the coffee shop as I write this, surrounded by people.

A lot of people.

This was not my first choice of locations.

My usual table at the coffee shop (a corner table on the second story where no one sits because it’s kind of scary) broke when I tried to drop my bag on it. I know it defeats the purpose of going into public to then remove oneself from the public, but I am a creature of strange habits and esoteric anxieties. I like to know people are there, I just don’t necessarily feel a desire to go be among them. Anyhow, the broken table necessitated I engage in much more social interaction than I am accustomed to.

My drink spilled everywhere. Little islands of foam swirling all around. A giant damn mess. Lacking a mop, there was no way to quietly fix the issue myself and disappear. So I took the offending table leg (someone had unscrewed it and put it back under the table, which I admit is a timeless classic) so that it would fall over whenever someone tried to put a load on it. I would like to believe this person was a good Samaritan, using seeming serendipity to coax a recluse to go out and be closer to people. The full truth, in all its complex depths, will probably remain a mystery forever. Although I like to imagine the same person is out there giving people money at gunpoint, breaking into homes and stocking pantries, and sending ominous ransom letters to local police bureaus threatening to fill in pot-holes.

I talked to the manager, who offered unasked to replace my drink (I wasn’t going to ask because a giant 31 year old man should never ask for a hot chocolate twice in the span of five minutes) took care of the whole mess and tried to return to my spot. Alas, it had been taken. And the other spot for recluses was also taken. Right as I was about to get there. So now I am sitting in the middle of the coffee shop, surrounded by young people and hipsters and I guess maybe the universe is telling me to come out of my shell.

This is all about an hour after my fiancee found my engagement ring (it only seemed fair to wear one) after it had gone missing a few months back. At this point I’m fully expecting an eccentric old man with a long white beard to sit down across from me, strike up a conversation, reveal a hidden destiny and send me on a quest to another world.

It’s about time, isn’t it?

Although now that I’m older the thought of being taken away to another land seems like a lot more bother. Who would answer the angry HOA letters about my lawn not meeting regulations? Who would clean the litter boxes? Would I get FMLA benefits?

INVISIBLE PROGRESS

The weird thing about what I’ve been doing lately is what I call ‘Invisible Progress.’ I write. I edit. I write more. Have you seen any of this? No. My blog seems abandoned, floating through cyberspace. Yet I am probably writing more than I ever have. Not in the last few weeks, but a lot otherwise. A lot a lot. So many words.

And I think those words will strike fear into your secret heart. They will stoke the terrors you have never dared utter. It will make you generally afraid of what’s on the other side of the door. It will have you looking over your shoulder and promising yourself that nothing bad will happen to you. Will it? Of course not! But… bad things DO happen don’t they?

Progress has slowed the last few weeks, strangely, because I feel really good. Hard to get in the horror mindset (or at least the type of horror I’m working on) when one feels generally positive. And I want these stories to feel like an attack on your sense of safety. So, I’m pushing myself into the Halloween feel as much as I can and trying to bang this out before I move onto Age of Fusion stories.

SPEAKING OF YOUR PERSONAL SENSE OF SAFETY

There is another audio version of the Pancake Family!

Listen to it here!

And make sure you’re not at work and/or surrounded by people who can judge you.

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS

I have had time to read for various reasons. I want to bring your attention to two very unalike books. Both of them are very much worth your time.

I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the self-help movement. For someone who has gone to as much therapy as I have, I know that might sound odd. Yet, at the same time, it’s hard to argue with what I call the sandwich theory of mood.

Meaning:

Often when I was a child, I would tell my grandmother I was upset and I just needed to be left alone to think.

She would reply that I just needed to eat a sandwich.

I would quietly but passionately refuse her offer to make me a sandwich.

She then made me a sandwich anyway.

Being guilted into not letting the food go to waste, I would eat the sandwich and then feel better. Except not completely, because this was also one of the best proofs against free will (or at least certain versions of free will) I have ever been presented in my life and I always knew that at some level.

Maybe you’ve felt the same. Your grandmother making you a sandwich to make you feel better is one of the best proofs ever against simplistic notions of free will.

And yet, as I have grown older and gone to therapy and learned how to be better accountable I started to think: Why did I not choose to make myself a sandwich when I felt poorly? Why did I suppose that doing things to make myself feel bad should instead make me feel good? Why did I allow these self-reinforcing patterns to take hold and trap me?

Somehow, seeing the pattern changes you. When it’s all laid out before you like dominoes, it gets your fingers itching to maybe just remove one of the dominoes in the chain to see what happens. It gives you control over the pattern. I think that’s a better way to think of free will (google compatibilism for more phun and phascinating philosophical insights!)

Which brings me to Tony Robbins. I was a skeptic. I still am in certain regards. Anyone who thinks Deepak Chopra has useful things to say about medicine or quantum physics (which has become the science of science meaning whatever you want it to mean) deserves at least a bit of side eye. And then I saw a documentary and did a bit more research and I can say this: Tony Robbins legitimately gives an actual fuck about people.

This is a rare thing.

Most of us are content to care about appearing to give a fuck about people. Or caring about our internal knowledge that we care about people (as in when you drive by someone who is homeless and think about giving them some money, and then don’t, but you get a little tear in your eye about what a sweetheart you are just for thinking of it).

Yet how many of us will take on the homeless person with a major personality disorder that has absolutely exhausted every single person in his or her circle of friends and family? I tried to do that once and I lasted about three weeks before I found other things to do. How many of us take the time to research that it is actually not good to give money to homeless people, and then instead of washing our hands of all responsibility, then go on to further research that you definitely should take that same money and give it to a local homeless shelter that can provide structure and healing?

Very few.

Tony Robbins is among those few.

Caring about people is one of the most fucking exhausting things you can ever do in your entire life. Feeling bad for people is easy. Saying I told you so is also easy. Giving someone strength is hard and it grinds the gears of your soul together to do it. Tony Robbins tries to do that.

None of that has anything to do with personal finance.

I just want you to know that that is the sort of ethos that went into this book:

Money: Master the Game

If you worry about money in retirement you should buy this book. If you, like me, were raised by literally illiterate lumber jacks who literally and figuratively buried money in their back yards, you should buy this book. It’ll open your eyes.

I googled what there was to google and confirmed what there was to confirm. I vouch for this book. I vouch for the thoughts it will make you think.

Ray Dalio may be one of the smartest human beings I have ever heard of and I’d love about three hours to just pick his brain (not even about finances, just thoughts I’ve had about complex systems and ways in which they could be engineered, which is finance at a more abstract level I suppose) and try to map out his mind. I’d really like to run my Martian government ideas by him as well as some thoughts I’ve had about engineering ecological systems. A wonderful mind.
This video is the best video about economics I have ever seen. It takes you from googoo gaga to complex emergent phenomena in about thirty minutes. You can’t beat that.

You know how I said Dan Wells is Famous but He Should Be Even More Famous?

I was totally wrong.

You see, after reading his latest book, I’ve reached the inescapable conclusion that he should be even more famous than I previously thought.

Maybe even more famous than that.

Obviously if you’ve read this far, it should be apparent I’m not a person who feels they’re too good to get excited about things. Electric cars! Reusable rockets! Passively managed low-fee index funds! Risk diversification! And maybe… just maybe… Dan Wells?

I’ve talked about how much I enjoy Wells in the past. That being said, this book takes things to another level. Dare I even say, this is a literary work of classic proportions? I only fear it won’t get the attention it deserves because it doesn’t really “fit” into the style of what he is known for. People mostly look for things that “fit a story” instead of taking them as they are, which makes me a bit sad.

The story takes place in a world where a hand-gel has been made that causes rapid cloning. Imagine with the squirt of a bottle that anyone anywhere could become anyone else anywhere else? How many of us really have something inside that’s as distinct as we think it is? How many of us know the actual things that make us distinct, as opposed to the things we think make us distinct? How does the world as we know it change when we (as we have always known ourselves) also change?

This book lays out those dichotomies flawlessly.

It has a feel of Vonnegut, a sense that there’s this sort of sick cosmic joke that for all of our grandstanding the real nature of reality is so bizarre that nothing we think we know accurately maps to Truth.

Pick it up. Read it. Feel your mind stretch.

It’s a good feeling.

The Election

I love you all, whoever you voted for.

A word of caution, though.

Feeling “good” about large-scale policy decisions and politicians is a sort of poison. It is a pernicious poison because it makes us feel we’re doing something different than other people. When you see the pattern, you can change it. So here’s a few thoughts to help you see what I see:

Do you honestly believe you have the one policy idea, unique in all of human history, that is free of negative ramifications? Do you believe that your belief system is so instantly extrapolated from first principles that anyone who says they believe in it believes in it the same way you do and isn’t bringing their own baggage along for the ride? Do you think roughly half of the other people in the same country you do are complete idiots who have NOTHING AT ALL at the basis of their complaints?

EVERYTHING requires judgment on the ground. NOTHING comes free. You ALWAYS have to make adjustments, modifications and exceptions. Only children think they solve a problem and that it is solved forever. An adult knows that when you win the day, your true prize is the next day. Best to make peace with that. Better even to let that be your happy thought. We won’t go into the future with idle hands and we’ll always have things to do to give life meaning.

Be excited. Be happy. You read how I’m excited about things. But swallow the bitter pills. Taste that they’re bitter and never lie and say they’re sweet.

And maybe instead of trying to be happy, you should try to be satisfied?

Happiness is gone in a moment.

Satisfaction has a tendency to stick around.

And you tend to be happier when you’re satisfied.

4 thoughts on “Kismet

  1. Now I miss my grandma’s grilled cheese sandwiches. What is the word for missing a particular sandwich that only a particular person can make, and that person is long dead? So you know you will never taste that particular magic again? There should be a word.

    1. I’m going to go ahead and cobble a bunch of languages together and say “Nanasanwunshen.” Man, there’s nothing better than a grilled cheese sandwich made by a grandma.

  2. Ha! i grew up calling her nana. Anyhoodles, nanasanwushen is now tattooed on my arm, but i will never explain to anyone what my sick ink actually means.

    but seriously, that’s a good word. i guess when we are dead we can’t expect either sandwiches or cosmic explanations.

    Our passage through time is interesting. There’s that.

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