America could use a holiday like Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. It’s a Mexican holiday where people remember the lives of who they lost, put up their photos, give them offerings, and many other traditions that focus on giving to the dead.
Most importantly, it exposes people to ideas of death and mortality early and positively. Death is inevitable, so getting too fearful and anxious over it (after a point) just damages one’s sense of self. A holiday like Dia de los Muertos in America could help remove the excessive fear and self-preservation from America’s culture.
If our loved ones can visit us in the living world like in Coco, well, that’s just a bonus. One I absolutely want.
For a long time, I’ve believed a person’s value is directly proportional to the value they bring others. So only someone with money and useful skills is remembered, helped, and fought for.
I blame America’s capitalism culture for putting this view in me, since Millennials are all about blaming capitalism.
Then I realized being a productive robot isn’t how to build good relationships. Why? People don’t befriend robots; people befriend compassionate, friendly people.
So take that, capitalism. I finally freed myself a little more from your clutches.
A while back I wrote about Saturday nights. How it’s foolish to think everyone is partying or having a golden time during them, since every other type of event is also happening.
On a related note, there’s lots of things one can do on a weekend. But there’s a lot fewer things one wants to do on it too.
As long as I find something I want to do, not partying or doing stereotypical twenty-something activities is fine with me.
Reading How to Win Friends and Influence People has me thinking a lot. One of those things is this quote from House M.D., episode 16 of season 1.
I’m not hiply cynical and I don’t make easy snide remarks. I would rather think that people are good and be disappointed once and again.
The book often says the angry, unempathetic approach is easier and a person’s first impulse. It’s a lot harder to listen, see things from another’s perspective, and persuade with empathy.
It’s something to keep in mind when we see people attacking, dismissing, or bullying others. Those people are taking the cheap and easy approach to life. Anyone could do that. Approaching life with empathy and an open mind is a sign of true strength.
The more time you spend in your own head, the more important it is you don’t forget your filter when you actually speak.
I spend so much time in my own thoughts and imagination, I’m normalized to so many things others wouldn’t even consider sharing. The response to that sharing is never “wow, how creative!” It’s “what the hell is wrong with you?” Or worse.
It’s a hard truth to swallow, since we often fall in love with our own worlds. That itself is fine - just remember virtually no one else will.
One book I’ve been reading talked about a person’s need to feel important. How it’s so vital to one’s well-being, it’s on the same level of hunger and thirst. The more I considered it, the less absurd I realized it was.
We’ve all seen people take drastic actions when hungry or thirsty: drinking dirty lake water, stealing food from others, or even something as extreme as killing and eating another human. But it’s often a choice between extreme action or death, and death is almost always worse.
Death isn’t on the line for the need to feel important, either to the world, a specific person, or anything in between. But there are plenty of examples of people doing something drastic to satisfy it.
- Chaining themselves to trees to save the environment
- Donating millions of dollars to help fund charities
- Routinely risking their lives as police officers or firefighters to save lives
- Setting themselves on fire to protest Buddhist persecution
- Organizing hunger strikes against unjust and cruel confinement in Guantanamo Bay
That last one strikes me the most. Peoples’ desire to eat (which keeps us alive) was beaten by their desire to be part of something important.
All this isn’t a bad thing since these activities push people to help others while giving people a sense of value and worth.
As long as we’re self-aware enough to manage this urge and feed it in healthy ways. Otherwise, we may do something extreme, like the “need to feel important” equivalent of killing and eating someone.
Sometimes I get way too caught up in managing the little details - building habits, managing money, eating healthy, among others. These are all important, but I can get so wrapped up in them I forget to let myself be happy or do something real. Making myself better is pointless if I’m not doing better things too.
When that happens, I remember this quote a friend shared with me. Reading it helps me snap out of my self-loop and try something different or take a risk.
It’s easy for me to get trapped in my head. For thoughts to wind around my consciousness and pull me down, and I confuse the struggle to get back out as doing something meaningful.
But sometimes the most intelligent thing I can do is something that requires little deep thought. Something like drawing is simple, meditative, and takes a lot of focus but little thinking.
I think of it as a fuel stop. Sometimes one needs to stop and simply experience something to fill up their mental tanks. Then the next time they think, it’s about adding to the world around them. That’s better than down an internal rabbit hole leading nowhere.
Another reason why rest is not laziness.
I realized that my last note of “you can’t have the ‘what’ without the ‘why’” applies to why I write as well.
Do I post here for sincere self-expression? A desire for attention? Importance? Identity?
It’s certainly not for clicks or ad revenue, so I have that going for me.
I am a selfish blogger. But writing anything for simple validation, from tweets to messages, is rooted in insecurity. At least selfish blogging indirectly helps others. If I’m lucky, it helps others more than me.
So this note is a reminder to myself: don’t mix up “selfish blogging” with “insecure blogging.”
Before I do something I want to do, I’m trying to first ask why.
Some are good, like wanting to be a better coder, getting enough sleep, and staying in (what I choose to think of as) decent shape.
Some are bad, like wanting to smoke various things, playing video games until my brain melts, and kicking random people after too much Twitter.
“Want” isn’t enough without the “why.”
A question I constantly struggle with is what gives someone’s life value, and how I can find it for myself.
Does a person’s life have value if the person simply exists selfishly, looking out for their own needs and desire? I’d say no since that life adds no value to the world, since it doesn’t increase happiness or decrease suffering for others.
But devoting one’s life to helping others doesn’t fully solve it for me. It’s nearly impossible to tell when the value one gives the world balances with what one takes to stay alive. Would one need to save one life to justify our own? Would one need to save one high-value life or several lower-value lives? Or give small bits of value and inspiration to lots of different people?
If one brings new life into this world with kids, does it only count if that life also brings value to the world? If someone produces a life that only takes and never gives, does that make one even less worthy of life?
Even doing all that, does helping others simply to help oneself count? They’re using others as excuses or rationalizations to keep living. It’s just become another selfish activity.
It’s a question with no answer that keeps asking for one. I’m again left asking myself, how can we define the value of a life?
A recent article I read on burnout in hourly-wage jobs mentioned how often people overlook chronic stress and fatigue in these jobs. The American ideal of “just work hard” makes many see burnout as the price of a better life.
While true in an ideal world, today there are a few things wrong with that:
- These jobs rarely give employees a career ladder to “climb up.”
- Burnout causes long-term health issues like obesity and heart disease, which hurt workers and society long-term.
- So many workers are so desperate for work and/or to support their families, they’ll put up increasing abuse and can’t just “find another job.”
All that nuance is lost when others can simply chant “just work hard!” It’s today’s version of “four legs good, two legs bad” - oversimplified and now meaningless, but great for drowning out calls to do better.
As much as I try to move away from drawing, it always pulls me back.
My guess is while programming and reading stimulate my left brain, anime and drawing stimulate my right brain. I need something I can throw myself into entirely without worrying about calm puzzle-solving or writing unit tests.
Programming and reading work out my logical brain. Nothing seems to hit my creative brain like drawing. It’s short, intensive, and satisfying, like a round of boxing or an amazing unit test.
If a hobby keeps pulling you back no matter what else you try, it’s a safe bet it’s worth investing in.
The hardest part of living by Essentialism is saying no to something fun to focus on something important.
Especially when I need to say “yes” to cleaning my apartment, and need to say “no” to this game.
This game is so unbelievable, I can't even... 🤣 pic.twitter.com/EKKys3tl0H— Max Antonucci (@Maxwell_Dev) July 14, 2019
Have you ever met someone who was both:
- A good person
- Had to regularly tell others they’re not racist, sexist, or whatever else-ist?
Excitement for new projects is like a whirlpool sometimes. At first, I’m cruising along feeling thrilled. Then I realize you’re in too deep, obstacles are piling up, and it’ll take a lot longer to get back to a stable place than you expected. Plus my lungs may overflow with alcoholic liquid and I drown.
In other words, I get sucked in and am in such a huge rush I either give up or settle for forced, haphazard changes. A few months later I look back, want to fix it all, and the cycle continues.
Not this time, especially since the project in question is revamping this very site!
Patience and incremental changes are the real solutions. What’s most important is not thinking that this project will solve everything. Success isn’t one big step - it’s several everyday steps.
Dating sites need a section for favorite philosophers. Mostly to avoid people who like Immanuel Kant. These people have many beliefs that don’t work in romance:
- If they don’t “intend” to offend others, they get a free pass.
- They’re unwilling to compromise on ANYTHING.
- They won’t lie and say you look good, even if you don’t. Which I personally know is a big red flag.
Always ask on the first date if they like Kant. If they do, just run.
- Good people who feel big try to lift up others, wanting to share the joy.
- Bad people who feel big try to push others down, terrified to lose their spot.
- Good people who feel small try to climb up, helping others when they can.
- Bad people who feel small try to drag others down, finding “joy” in spreading their misery.
We can’t always control how big or small we feel in the world. At least we can choose not to be an asshole about it.
An eFriend of mine pointed out how many people in a group chat don’t often write something productive. Instead, they often talked in circles, shared few facts or insights, and more often seemed just liked reading their own words.
So for the record, productive conversations mean accepting there are smarter people worth taking advice from. Even if (perhaps especially if) you’re a man and the smarter people are women.
There’s countless examples of someone saying something horrible and offensive, being called out on it, and the person dismissing the anger as “people unable to take a joke.”
If it’s a joke, people need to laugh. Angry is optional, laughter is mandatory. If a majority of people are angry instead of laughing, it’s not a joke. At least not a worthwhile one. You’re either a lame bullshit artist or a lame bullshit comedian. Or if you care about your “comedy” that much more than the feelings and lived experiences of other people, a bullshit human being.
No matter what, don’t think “comedy” should mean the same as “immune from consequences.” And get some new material.
When you’re trying to accomplish something, don’t play television in the background. Ever.
It can’t be completely tuned out. It divides our attention and pushes unneeded info into our minds. It’s like breathing in polluted air - you can’t directly feel the damage, but it builds up overtime and can be devastating.
Your attention and focus are your best weapons against any problem. Give those away, and you’re letting others exert more power over you. These are people who only see you as a pair of eyeballs with a wallet.
Play music if you must. But never television.
When people call out microaggressions, a common dismissal I read or hear is “if they’re so small why are you treating them like some huge deal?”
Think of microaggressions like termites. One termite won’t destroy a house. Thousands of termites eating away at the foundation, bit by bit, ultimately make it collapse.
Seeing one microaggression in isolation makes complaining about them petty. Knowing the context of how they damage people makes calling them out important. Knowing this context and still using the “it’s just one small thing” dismissal makes you an asshole.
If you’re not convinced, see this comic illustrating how the damage is done.
The recent Alabama abortion ban got me thinking about other policy positions that match with “holding all forms of life sacred” and all that. When someone tells me they’re pro-life, I’d expect them to also hold the following views:
- Universal, or at least affordable, and inclusive healthcare. So no one dies of preventable illnesses due to inflated costs.
- Affordable childcare and preschool education. Also universal education access, since it’s one of the best ways to improve one’s quality of life long-term.
- No death penalty or capital punishment, assuming there’s no exceptions to “all life is sacred” that were conveniently left out.
- Global poverty aid to stop more prevantable deaths worldwide. This includes accepting migrants fleeing violence so they’re not senselessly killed.
- Sex education and birth control to reduce the number of abortions. I’d assume someone who hates abortion would support strong measures that removes the need for many of them.
The less someone “pro-life” supports policies like this, the more I see them as simply “pro-birth.” That’s the much less pleasant position of “make women have babies if they can’t keep their legs closed, and the rest is not my problem.” Which is exactly as cruel and damaging as it sounds.
Trying to be a better person is good, but trying too hard can backfire.
Take this purely hypothetical example: someone wants to be more independent and less burdensome to others. Up to a point, this makes them less intrusive and more respectful. Taken too far, this makes them dismissive and isolated. They could miss out on great relationships by thinking “I’d just be a burden to them” when that’s not the case at all.
Again, purely hypothetical.
Sometimes trying harder to be someone better is worse than trying harder to be yourself.
The best advice I’ve gotten for handling unwanted thoughts and emotions is simple. It doesn’t involve pushing them away or drowning them in affirmations. That only makes them stronger.
I let myself feel them without judgement. They’re there, then they go away, and they’ll likely pop up again. It’s pointless to pile thoughts on top of them - those thoughts do the real damage.
We can’t all be the person making and leading events that help the community. We can at least be a person who helps in little ways where they can.
Even if that “little way” is playing rock music as you all works. So everyone goes a little faster and enjoys it a touch more.
Nice and good aren’t the same thing.
Someone can smile and politely greet you while doing evil things like:
- Refusing service to black people
- Turning down an insurance claim so someone is bankrupted by simply not dying
- Firing someone for being a woman
- Wearing clown makeup
- Making you watch The Notebook
- Standing back and letting a one group shoot another down
Don’t let reasons like “keeping the peace” and “being a nice person” on their own convince you someone is good.
Keeping the peace doesn't make you peaceful.https://t.co/FvkKnprSyD— Max Antonucci (@Maxwell_Dev) April 23, 2019
Good people regarded as heroes today were often scolded as rulebreakers before. Similar history could be playing out with them now.
I love writing, but I also hate when I base too much self-value on others’ reactions. Too much focus on my own, or even others’ writing, can sadly cause this.
So taking a step away from writing, like blogging or Twitter (mostly Twitter) helps at times. Until I inevitably get too bored and start writing something else. The cycle continues!
Most people know that, as children, we may have repressed memories into our unconscious mind. This seems obvious enough today, but thinking about it now, I find it unsettling. Someone’s immature brain basically said “this kid can’t handle this memory, better hide it from them and maybe reveal it later.”
Someone brain made a decision separate from whoever owned the brain itself, with maturity the owner lacked. Honestly, how different is this from a random adult reaching into our brains and making the change for us?
The worst part is, this could be happening all the time and we’d never be consciously aware of it. We could wake up one day, all our unconscious memories flooding to the surface, and realize our entire lives were a lie.
Happy Spring, everyone!
On one of my favorite episodes of “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” guest Nora Roberts dropped this wisdom:
There are 88 keys on the piano, but do you run out of music?
For a creative pursuit like writing (and programming), a lot of my creativity combines what I know and what I find. For example, what about combining programming and camels? It’ll be the start of a new generation of coders who can work remote in a desert without a beer keg!
Correction: creativity is about new and good idea combinations. Take one idea, research a new one, and see how well they fit. Rinse and repeat until famous.
Judging people on how constantly productive they are is idiotic. They’re either doing low-quality work, burning themselves out, or are secretly robots, lizard people, or robot lizards. None of these are good, and all are real problems today.
Judging people by how their spend their non-productive time is another matter. Do they watch television series or read books? Do they play video games or go for a walk? Do they scour social media or pursue a hobby?
I’m not saying you should judge people, I leave negative things like that to the robot lizards. But if you must, how someone spends their relaxation time is, at least, a more accurate approach.
With all the React Week tweet drama, there were lots of people trying to explain it. One aspect I had a really hard time explaining was:
Is it really so tough to say “I’m sorry for what was written, I was unaware how it was offensive, so we have removed it and put in place measures (like a CoC) to prevent it from happening again?— Max Antonucci (@Maxwell_Dev) March 26, 2019
Or are some male egos too fragile to admit fault when women criticize them?
I personally don’t find it hard accepting lots of women are smarter than me. I grew up with two such women, read blog posts of such women, and have been rejected by even more of such women.
I have an unfair advantage with accepting this however, since most people are smarter than me regardless of gender.
While I mostly agree with Konmari’s principle of only keeping what “sparks joy,” my only exception is books. Books will always spark joy, even if books I’ve read a lot need a long break before they spark it again.
Plus, does anything spark more joy than getting lots of books for only $9.50 at a library book sale?
Forgot about this when I arrived, but the spoils from the library book sale!— Max Antonucci (@Maxwell_Dev) March 23, 2019
Almost half of which are John Grisham novels 😅 pic.twitter.com/pyICaKUEFc
Technically some things do spark more joy than that, but they’re all illegal in this state and I don’t know any dealers.
By your very existence, you will anger people who want nothing more but to destroy you. You may never meet them, but there will always be people who loathe one (or more) things you stand for. No matter what you try to do to change them or yourself.
If that’s the case, I may as well go down the path that makes me happy and brings me meaning. Whatever it is or whoever it pisses off.
Sometimes I look at the sheer amount of programming knowledge I have on my learning list, and get what’s basically a panic attack. Shortness of breath, dizziness, anxiety, can’t move, even a little tunnel vision.
I think these are caused by a few bad assumptions about how I learn:
- I need to learn everything on my list.
- Any time not spent learning is wasted.
- Any info I don’t write down is forgotten.
Some more correct ideas to go by instead would be:
- I should focus on learning the resources I judge will help the most. One article on fundamentals is better than several articles on rare, middling specifics.
- There’s time spent on committed learning, but there’s also time spent exploring new information. There’s also time to rest and play, because without a work and play balance I can’t consistently learn.
- Reading info without notes isn’t as helpful, but it can still help. Awareness of extra knowledge lets me know where to look when I hit an obstacle. Thinking like a glossary is better, and more realistic, then thinking like an encyclopedia.
Of course, knowing all this is easy. Fully accepting and acting on it is another.
What scares me the most is someone who refuses to change their mind.
So much of today’s anger, dysfunction, gridlock, violence, and even death can often be traced back to one fundamental flaw in someone. That’s being shut off from any new ideas, perspectives, worldviews, compromises, or solutions.
Their mind is shut off like a rock that’ll eventually crash into someone.
The comic’s example: imagine you travel back in time one year. You secretly watch a copy of yourself relive that entire year. Since you lived it, you can predict your every thought and action.
Now imagine you’re playing The Sims, the computer game where you create computerized people and watch them live. You make their personalities and environment, and how they’ll make their decisions. You could watch them live for a year and predict virtually their every thought and action.
These two scenarios are ultimately the same thing. It’s hard to claim a simple computer program has free will, so how can we claim humans have it?
All humans are basically robots making decisions based on things we can’t control: our personalities, environments, and the laws of physics. We’re just a lot more complex than Sims and we don’t understand the whole decision-making process. Not yet, anyway.
Also sadly, there’s no reset buttons or money cheat codes. Not yet, anyway.
When bored, I’ve defaulted to this question: “What interesting thing can I make today with anime images I find online?”
This time around, I answered by laser-cutting one of these images into a woodblock as a gift. It’s possible with four easy steps!
First, find a good image with a simple background.
Second, remove its color and increase the contrast.
Third, use Inkscape to convert the image into several SVG vector layers. Pick out the best ones, change them to either pure green or yellow, and place them on an image canvas. Add in other elements like a quote or a sun.
Fourth, plug it all into a laser cutter, put in a standing woodblock, hit start, and pray it comes out okay.
Once all the above are done, dance into the night in celebration!
Many of my online friends handle intrusive thoughts by letting them flow in and out of their mind without feeding them. Feeding them too much attention or mental energy makes them grow, and they wear away at our emotions and mental energy until…bad things happen.
Yet for the past few days strategies like this have failed me, with intrusive thoughts gnawing away at my self-esteem and sense of security.
Turns out, forcibly rejecting intrusive thoughts counts as feeding them in my case. It’s the “say you can’t think about elephants, and it’s all you can think of” cliche. My extra effort to overlook these thoughts ironically made them stronger.
I got around this by remembering not to judge myself for these thoughts. Everyone has dark or unflattering thoughts each day, but they don’t define our character. Those are the thoughts we remember, act on, and base our actions on.
So next time a dark thought pops up as I’m walking down the street, I’ll think no more or less of myself for it. It just flows into the void, like so many others.
I look back on history and wonder what it like to live in different times. Times without:
- Modern medical care
- Video games
I could research what those times were like forever. But I can never experience them the same way. I can’t walk down a road from the past, living in an society untouched by today’s technology. It makes the past seem archaic, and the present feel futuristic.
On the flipside, people centuries in the future will think the same about today. The future could be radically different in any way, like:
- Colonization of other planets
- Global devastation through nuclear war
- Enslavement via autonomous, power-mad AIs
People in the future could be looking back on the present, wishing they could find the experiences we take for granted each day. They could long to know what it’s like walking down a street of planet Earth without fear of radiation or robots looking to enslave them.
We are living the history people will someday wish they could go back and experience, even for a moment. How incredible is that?
It’s easy for me to look at large-scale horrible news (repeating government shutdown, anyone?), and get so cynical I shut myself away with video games.
Those big problems will always be there. But it’s more pragmatic to focus on the smaller, local things that are actually productive or can make a difference to someone.
Maybe not everyone, but someone. That’s better than no one.
Cynicism is another bad feeling pulling our minds like gravity. But it pulls us away from things that can alleviate that cyncism - meaningful activity, other people, and the liquor store. So pulling away is a daily fight.
I’ve often been in the stereotypical “in my apartment staring at an empty file” situation.
Quick fix for this? Leave the apartment and go somewhere else. For example, I’m writing this from an undislosed location filled with saws, lasers, power tools, and a burning smell in the air. Sure I’m not writing anything interesting, or much at all, but it’s more than nothing!
Home is for relaxation. My brain knows that, even if I have a hard time remembering it.
With programming, there are times when I’m balancing time between two side projects. For example, these side projects could be:
- A Pokemon personality quiz on which Eevee evolution someone is, built on Ember to practice more complex services, writing all an app’s tests on my own, and with touches of the Pokemon API.
- Building another Pokedex from the ground up with the Pokemon API, but this time with React as my first experience with a fuller React application and (hopefully) testing it.
When I’m torn between two weird Pokemon code projects, I know I’m in the right field.
Good creativity doesn’t occur in a vacuum from the “creative mind,” whatever that means. It’s not from a simple desire to make something flashy and get attention, since there’s simple (and often annoying) ways to do that. Just look online.
Creativity is rooted in problem-solving. Solving interesting problems leads to creativty, since they demand interesting solutions. Which is more work than simply “thinking up something new.” It’s thinking up something new that gets a new job done.
I should ask myself a different question when bored. It shouldn’t be “how can I be creative?” It’s “what problem can I try to solve?” It can be big or small, as long as I find it just challenging enough.
I was recently asked “where do you want to be in ten years?”
I had no real answer. I still don’t.
But I don’t think I need to yet. It’s still early enough in my life. I can go in the right direction without knowing my specific goala.
Someone can know they need to head north, but not know exactly where for a while. But I need to get an answer ready when just “north” isn’t enough.
As a front-end developer, I think Ruby may be my favorite programming language I’ve used the least in my career.
I’ve fiddled with Ruby before, but I reached the point of using it to pull off all my once far-reaching ideas. It’s easy to take a goal like “scraping the web for my favorite anime artwork” and break it down into several classes. Each ones is easy to manage, fun to optimize, is a great cook, and will automatically email me great images like this each day.
But every day can’t be like today, where I stay at work thirty minutes too late, lost in the eyes of a Ruby module. There’s a thin line between love and a crazy code obsession, Ruby. Let’s not let things get so off the rails that we find ourselves lost and full of regret inside a Rails app.
At least not right away.
Which came first, the decrease in writing or the decrease in self-esteem?
I’d argue it doesn’t matter, since regardless of order, the result is a downward spiral of both.
The best way to break this cycle is writing anything, even if it hurts. As long as it build momentum and carries the self-esteem up with it.
I wrote before about good writing being a habit. I didn’t write about how if I let my guard down at all, those habits will shrivel up and die off.
Vacation time is all about relaxing. But what makes a good relaxing activity?
During my own vacation to New Orleans, my favorite ways to relax are:
- Twiddling with new Ruby ideas
- Starting to write Sonic Pi notes
- Bringing my personal site back to Jekyll (ugh…)
- Reading old and new books
- Walking in Audobon Park until my legs scream
My favorite ways to relax here are (mostly) simple things that keep my mind at a gentle hum instead of at full throttle. I’ll indulge in an episode or two of Bones, but eventually my brain gets antsy. A life without thought, however small, feels like a wasted one.
I’ve noticed my most relevant, powerful epiphanies happen during my boxing workouts. Somehow, bruising my knuckles against a heavy bag amid remixed pop songs helps my mind discover (or rediscover) important personal truths.
My guess is all-out boxing has a similar effect on my brain to alcohol - it lowers mental inhibitions so my thoughts flow more freely. The upside is, instead of embarrasing thoughts no one should ever hear, it affects useful ones related to health, motivation, and how I should write more.
So for all you naysayers who think there’s no upside to violence, I’d argue in the right circumstances, violence can be quite healthy! And I’m sure this won’t be plucked and twisted out of context at some point in the future, so I can rest easy.
To be honest, I never thought birthdays were too important. The day I was born was a result of almost pure randomness and luck, which makes it hard to see it as meaningful. Before I saw birthdays as a measure of how much someone cares (too much) about aging. The more they care, the more of their attention is stuck on youth, aging, and having a portrait in their hallway reflect their inner ugliness while they pursue eternal youth.
That’s true in one documented case, I think.
Lately I’ve seen a different meaning that doesn’t relate to the birthday person at all. It goes back to the friends and family who celebrate it with them. The more someone takes the time to celebrate another’s birthday, the more they care for them. The birthday just gives another excuse to express that affection.
So this note goes to the people who took a little time to wish me a happy birthday, either in person or online. It’s a strong sign someone’s grateful to know me, and I’m quite grateful for that in turn. As thanks, here’s a gif of a corgi going off a water slide in slow motion.
This note also goes to myself, who after realizing all this, will actually try to wish others a happy birthday instead of realizing I forget in a panic several days later.
For everyone else, just know I’m understanding and forgiving of your reasons for not wishing me a happy birthday. I even have a “Forgiveness List” with the names of everyone I plan to “forgive” one day. Don’t know if you’re on my Forgiveness List? You will soon enough, so don’t worry and don’t bother resisting.
Anyway, here’s to 26 years alive, and hopefully at least 26 more!
A recent Existential Comic about stoic dating made me ponder a stoic way to be thankful. Having read plenty of stoic philosophy before, I figure it’d go like this:
- Take the top five things in life you’re grateful for.
- Imagine life without each of them, one at a time, and all the stress and misery that’d cause you.
- Stop imagining these scenarios with a blend of gratefulness for still having them, and misery for realizing how they’ll eventually leave your life.
- Continue after Thanksgiving with a fresh perspective on the fragility of everything we love in life.
I think if we’re going to practice thankfulness, we should take it seriously!
When I want to be creative but can’t get the words going, drawing is always a good backup activity.
Now I just need time to get good at it again.
“Death Stalks Kettle Street” is one of my favorite novels for many reasons. Chief among them is an idea captured in this quote:
There were lots of so-called able-bodied people who were more ‘disabled’ than she was simply because they chose to sit around, letting their health suffer, watching television or playing videogames twelve hours out of every twenty-four. How many people couldn’t write a coherent sentence, not because they had learning difficulties, but because they just couldn’t be bothered to learn, and were content to have the only book they owned be the Argos catalogue?
~ Death Stalks Kettle Street, 211
I remember this on days I’m being too lazy. Not making proper use of my time to do something meaningful is wasteful, bordering on cruel to myself.
I have an idea of the stereotypical Saturday night, likely from media I’ve seen and anecdotes I’ve heard. The night where friends get together for drinks and laughter while they can.
On a saturday night, some have nights just like this. Some get drunk at bars and eat pizza. Some go to wild warehouse parties and stay up well past midnight. Some have private fun with friends. Some chat with far-away lovers.
On a saturday night, some stay inside and enjoy their solitude. Some are content to read or play video games. Some take walks outside alone. Some have wine for the taste, not to cover up any loneliness.
On a saturday night, some are stuck working. Some catch up on overdue paperwork. Some are stuck in a busy food line. Some serve drinks to patrons they nervously watch drive home. Some have peaceful shifts where families dine together, or horrible ones where fights tear them apart.
On a saturday night, some are withering away. Some are suffering heartbreak. Some are mangled in freak accidents. Some look in a mirror silently before shattering it with their fist. Some are watching their loved ones die in a hospital. Some are dying in that same hospital.
On a saturday night, every conceivable good or bad event is happening.
On a saturday night, it’s like every other day and night. Some nights it’s both harder to, and more important to, remember that.
I got a surprising tweet in my mentions recently.
It’s surprising for two reasons:
- A major front-end blog, CSS Tricks, found my accessibility article worth sharing.
- A university professor whose class I took as a sophomore still remembers me over three years after graduation. My graphic design skills then (and likely now) weren’t getting into any galleries.
But I do remember Professor Davis from my time in Newhouse. Mostly from a Newhouse event where someone mistook her for a student.
As great as the conversation at #TechCurve has been, the best moment so far was Deb Davis's beautiful reaction to being called a student— Tom Charles (@tcharles411) March 27, 2014
I recently spoke to someone who, even though they’re an atheist, is unsure about their beliefs about reincarnation. After the death of a loved family member, this person took their lessons and ideas to heart. In a weird way, they felt like a reincarnation of their loved one. Other family members even commented on how their actions, ideas, and even mannerisms are similar. Was it reincarnation or just their memories?
I don’t believe in literal reincarnation myself, and told them so. But I believe their actions are a way to keep their family member alive. Remembering this person’s positive influence means, even indirectly, they’re still affecting the world like before. Their family member still exists, even if it’s limited to their memories of them.
Isn’t that, in its own way, a form of reincarnation and immortality? Carrying a loved one with you instead of waiting for them to reappear?
One of my worst habits (other than trying to make soup in an Instant Pot) is making side remarks just to get a laugh. Funny comments themselves aren’t bad - but doing it mostly to get a laugh is.
Why, you supposedly ask? It’s bad since it needlessly gives power to others. People can (and usually do) ignore my remarks or say they were annoying. Sometimes they’re just being honest, other times they’re jerks. The result is the same either way - The more validation I want, the more it stings after.
The lesson is it’s better to listen, rather than pepper discussions with needless snark. Plus if I’m putting that much importance on snarky remarks, I have bigger problems. Problems with my self-esteem and the amount of TV I’m watching.
When I’m feeling aimless, this poster always nudges be back on track.
The common themes I see for successful people I see? Flexibility and gratitude.
I’ve always wanted to be more like, and had a mild man-crush on, Miles Edgeworth.
What can I say, cravats are sexy. ❤️
You don’t need to know who he is. Just that I’ve idealized Edgeworth, and others like him, for their eccentric level of intelligence. They effortlessly see the truth and stay two steps ahead of enemies. That’s why people need them, and how they do so much good. He’s like Dr. House, except working in law, is a more charming kind of jerk, and asexual.
I’ve always wanted to be dangerously brilliant like him. But as you may know, I’m just a young front-end coder. It’s safe to say I’m not like smart and never will be. I doubt CSS will help solve murders, except for when it makes back-end coders kill someone.
Trying to be like him anyway has been like forcing a square peg in a round hole - pointless, frustrating, and breaks my fingernails. Much as I admire Edgeworth, and similar far-off personalities, trying to be him isn’t what’s best for me.
But there’s lots of things I can be. I can be curious. I can explain tough info clearly. I can get engrossed in solving complex coding puzzles. I can isolate myself indoors with books and games amid mild social anxiety and loneliness.
The takeaway from most of those strengths is it’s important to be who I am and do what I can. Max is all I’ll ever be, and no one else can be that. Might as well do some good that way instead of wasting weekends trying on cravats.
A common criticism I’ve heard of Christine Blasey Ford amid the Kavanaugh hearings, as well as other women speaking about their sexual assaults, is they’re “doing it for attention.” It’s not the most common dismissal, but is the most idiotic.
If these women just “wanted attention,” the easier choice is being the simple sex object many men want them to be.
- They’d dress themselves up for men they don’t know.
- They’d avoid saying anything too intelligent or opinionated to offend men with fragile egos.
- They’d put up with men catcalling her to humiliate her and exert power, doing nothing but smiling and waving.
- They’d prioritize a man’s pleasure over her own, even men she barely knows. Even, and especially, men who’d get physically violent without the pleasure they felt entitled too.
This is the way much of society wants women to act, and would gladly give women attention for it. Attention without the public shaming, personal attacks, and death threats. Attention met with that condescending “thank God you’re not like those other women” sneers and a pat on the head.
The fact that women like Professor Ford have known this all their lives, yet speak up against their assaulters, shows their bravery. It’s easier to fit into the silent, sex object role American society carved out for them. But it damn sure won’t lead to change.
Cartoonist and web developer Rachel Nabors once drew a comic about something she called the “Self-Doubt Fairy.”. I’ve found I have a similar voice in my head I call the “Passive-Aggressive Perfectionist Fairy,” or PAP Fairy, and is just as bad for my mental health.
The PAP Fairy says many things that pull me toward self-doubt and depression. It picks apart every little thing I didn’t do perfectly. It blames me for not trying to improve enough. When I feel defensive, the PAP Fairy claims it only wants what’s best for me. It says if I’m fine with being imperfect and undeserving, that’s my problem.
For the longest time, I couldn’t argue against all that well enough. But lately I’ve realized how its arguments are total bullshit by remembering a few fundamental truths:
- Perfection is pointless to strive for. The best I can do is be a bit better each day, a respectable goal for an imperfect human.
- I can want to be better while knowing my limits and priorities. I can accept the tradeoff of working harder in my career than my boxing workouts.
- What’s “best for me” isn’t relentless pressure for impossible perfection. What’s best for me is self-compassion, accepting my ups and downs as they are and as they change.
So you, PAP Fairy, are a stupid liar and not worth listening to. But you’re not universally bad - you also make me work harder and think critically. So despite being a stupid liar and all, I accept you as part of me with compassion. Maybe someday we can truly coexist.
But if we can’t, I’ll squish you with a sketchpad. It worked for Rachel and her Self-Doubt Fairy, so it’s a solid backup plan.
In all definitions of God I’ve heard, they’re all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing. I assume a God would need at least that much going for it to be worth worshipping.
But this same God also falls apart with the classic “Problem of Evil.”
- An all-knowing God would know how much evil would be in their world, and how to create a world without evil
- An all-good God would want to remove as much evil as possible
- An all-powerful God could create this world without evil
- Despite the above, evil still exists in the form of poverty, crime, murder, inequality, and flat-out misery happening to good people
A common response I’ve heard is it’s all part of “God’s Plan.” Human’s can’t understand this great design, so we must trust it’s for the greater good.
First off, I’m worried that someone’s willing to swallow a design where they’ll never know the reason for so much suffering. Plus no one could understand if a design “beyond human understanding” was for the greater good. By definition, no one could know if this plan of God’s is good or bad.
Even worse is how someone could accept these evil designs in the name of “faith in those with power.” That’s the kind of belief those in power are happy for people to have. The same leaders who, coincidentally, preach religion as a source of morals and inspiration. Makes me wonder if this answer to the “Problem of Evil” is how humans do so many evil things.
Instead of justifying evil to protect beliefs, people may be better off trying to understand the world’s evil more, decrease it, and build their beliefs from there. Then would it really matter how much of a role “God” played?
No matter how good something seems, I always find something better shortly after. A book that looks immersing later looks boring compared to another. Coding tools or frameworks I see one day soon becomes obsolete next to others.
It’s an endless cycle of want disguised as need. Ending that cycle means truly appreciating what I already have. Never forgetting the value I saw in it from the start.
For new things, if I only feel a “need” something once I learn about it, chances are I don’t really need it. The things I actually need, I probably already have and just need to remember.
This note brought to you by an hour after work wasted browsing Nintendo Switch before realizing it was an idiotic waste of time.
Whenever life is going well, I’ll ask myself one thing: do I deserve any of this?
The most likely answer I can think of is, I probably don’t. Maybe I never will. But the bigger point is that regardless, I have what I have. I better make good use of it. In some way.
Because if I don’t, these feelings of guilt and undeservedness won’t just get worse. They’ll be justified.
When your main thing is writing, it’s easy to get too caught up in reading and neglect the actual writing. It’s true whether one wants to write code, blogs, or stories. Reading examples helps, but my best progress comes from actually writing.
It doesn’t matter that writing’s for a detailed post, or random thoughts in my pocket notebook. Writing is a muscle to use each day. It’s is a habit I use to get through each day. It’s not something to turn on-and-off when I think enough people are looking.
I’ve based a lot of my happiness around my environment being consistent. I hate it when my car needs repairs, my posters fall off the walls, or my furniture gets too dirty. My brain wants these things to be constant, so I don’t need to worry about them.
Reality doesn’t agree. Something always breaks and must be fixed or replaced. My environment is never “as it should be.” Whenever things seem smooth, something always goes wrong.
One response is not bothering to try. There’s always something wrong I could use as an excuse to not do what matters to me - to write. The lazy, scared part of my mind is drawn to them like gravity. I think all human minds are. It’s a cheap, effective way to lower stress.
But it’s not about things “feeling right” before I do something. It’s about working around what’s wrong so I can do what I want anyway.
These “it’s not the right time” excuses aren’t right, they’re just easy. And the easy path is rarely meaningful.
I’ve liked television shows like House, and recently Bones, since they make me feel smarter. Part of my brain has said I shouldn’t waste time watching them. I rationalize that worry away by thinking about the show’s intelligence. Shows based around critical thinking, puzzle-solving, and science can’t be all bad. Right?
That rationalization has gotten weaker once I began accepting a few truths.
- Of everything I’d supposedly “learn” from shows like this, how much did I remember instead of it just washing over me? Little.
- Of the info I remember, how much of it is accurate, instead of being polished or simply wrong to increase the drama? Little.
- Of all the accurate info, how much did I critically think about in context, instead of being handed it as I unthinkingly down a plot path handing me answers? Little.
Ultimately, shows that make me feel smart are still shows. As almost any show does, they make me dumber, not smarter. It’s the same for medical dramas, mysteries, and late-night comedy shows going over the daily news. They’re made to entertain, not teach. It’s why my brain’s drawn to them more than articles or documentaries.
When it comes to my mental strength, I consider those shows honey traps: tempting, but better avoided. Resisting all that free nectar while watching others gorge is never easy. But it’s ultimately better for me.
The book series “Feed” features two adoptive siblings and their team blogging about their careers covering political campaigns and vast government corruption…around the time zombies walk the earth.
Between each chapter is a blog post or some other written communication by one of the characters. They range from articles they wrote, private letters to others, or unpublished glimpses into their streams of consciousness. Sometimes the writing is brief and lacks substance out of context.
For some reason, reading any of those posts inspires me to write more than anything. I think it’s less about the content and more about the characters’ clear purpose in what they write and why.
Do I often struggle to find blog topics since I’m not sure what my main purpose in writing here is? If so, I should at least have the same underlying purpose Feed’s characters have in writing their blogs: finding clarity and meaning through writing.
If you’re not using your own blog for that, then what are you using it for?
An insight I sometimes remember comes from an unlikely place - the Hello from the Magic Tavern podcast.
It was at the end of an episode with the homonculus made of bodily fluids (again, don’t judge). Someone dealing with a chronic illness said the podcast’s humor helped her through much of the pain. Even something as silly and pointless as an improv comedy podcast left a positive imprint on others.
Maybe it’s less about finding something new to help others, and more about helping others with what you already love. If people pretending to be, among many things, a drunk wizard, a passive-aggressive shapeshifter, and a bitchy talking flower can do that, can’t we all?
Seriously, don’t judge.
We all know we’ve inherited instinctual behaviors from our ancestors. We crave fatty foods, have sex drives, have a “fight or flight” mode, etc. But maybe people can inherit more.
What if people could inherit moral ideas and instincts? Things like a powerful desire for truth, hatred of injustice, or a wish to help the poor. Like our innate reactions to things like food, some ideas could have been so influential in someone’s life they were genetically passed down. There they’d unconsciously influence our thoughts and actions. We’d never know it, but this way our ancestors could still guide us.
Next time you reflect on a personal principle or truth, it could’ve been passed down to you. A guidepost passed down to help us navigate this messy world.
I like to think all that’s true. It shows we can all offer something valuable to the next generation.
Something all the real people I respect I have in common is they pour their passion into something that helps others. Sometimes more than one thing.
- Laura Kalbag and Aral Balkan for a more ethical web
- Heydon Pickering for greater web accessibility
- Rachel Nabors for better inclusivity and diversity in the web industry
- Bill Coplin for college students learning useful career skills
- Adam Conover for inspiring a mixture of humor and curiosity in others
It’s ideal since these passions likely bring them satisfaction (and a living) while leaving a positive imprint.
The hardest part of my career is finding a passion like that.
How many of your thoughts from yesterday can you specifically remember?
I’ve done this many times, and each time I barely remember any. This includes all that were snarky, depressing, serious, hilarious, witty, elating, sweet, sour, or secret prophecies from the future. The next day, they’re all lost in the ether. Never to be thought of virtually ever again.
I actually see this as a positive.
Whenever some thoughts intrude on my mind and get me down, I remember any power they have will fade by the next day. I feel their presence, count down from five, and imagine they’re a gust of wind flowing by. I see them fading into the ether myself, and moving on without them.
We often don’t have a choice with what thoughts crop up in our minds. We do have a choice with how they affect us. I think those choices do much more to determine who we are.