The Impediments

Today my friend observed that paragraphs were sheltering the flaws of my reasoning. I should suffer only lists and diagrams.

He also observed that he experienced contentment when with a companion. This was his reason for leaving his.

Me: Sure, but some partners spur us.
Him: Yes, but always in some direction.

Me: But what about Feynman’s parents? Didn’t they spur him without directing him?
Him: Yeah. If I found a companion like Feynman’s dad, I would stay with her.

We were standing in front of a fourteenth century painting at the Philbrook museum, on the first floor, nearish the entrance. A father blessing his son, tempera on wood. For something to do, we decided to give it more attention than seemed entirely reasonable.

The father and son are in what we assume is a house, but the painting isn’t realistic. The viewer has a cutaway view, and the house consists of one room, which is taken up almost entirely by a bed, on which the father is reclined, apparently preparing for death. The son appears to be somehow joined with an angel, which towers over him. Outside the house, to the right, a dog sits, its tail tucked and its back curved such that it appears almost to cower. Afraid of the angel? But can it see it from the outside? Surely it is looking at a wall, only made invisible by the artist? Never mind, the dog knows about the angel. Maybe it fled.

Referencing the plaque only to extract the name of the painting, we both googled it, commingling our conversation with those results.

Speaking of which, doesn’t it still seem too difficult to find the full text of psychology research papers? Here’s a good article on that topic, or actually on one a little broader. (What is that? What is it to disagree with oneself for rhetorical effect?)

Stand-up comedians get actual feedback from people. Writers picture the face of a reader, eyeing the wrinkles at the corner of her mouth as she picks her way through the ashes.

I keep meaning to go to a Toastmasters meeting, for an opportunity to receive scrutiny, like a stand-up comedian. There is a recurring reminder in my calendar, which I ignore.

It seems that some thrive at the end of feedback from others, but I have to be alone and listen to the percussive sound of my fingers tapping against one another and the faint, filmy pluck of the pads separating, my hands held up to my ears. I imagine I am playing castanets.

Clearly, I’ve given up trying to purpose this blog into a distinct theme, but I have been working on process. I’m reading Measure what Matters by John Doerr, and still reading about habits. It seems as if the whole world all at once has learned something. I know the internet caters to what we’re looking for, but it seems as if Duhigg and Clear and everyone else have found a central idea around which to frame our experience.

Of course, not quite. If you read page 34 of Practice Perfect (Lemov, Woolway, Yezzi), they list “muscle memory”, “rote” and “automatic” before getting to habit. Isn’t that strange? How much writing has been about the same thing? A self-consciously core idea of the book is “practice makes permanent.” But they hardly talk about habit by name. The whole book is about habit.

It can feel awful how central semantics is to the conversation.

Today is day 42 of 2019. It is the answer to the most important question in the universe.

After staring at the painting for over five minutes, my friend notices that the father’s hand, which we had both thought was just curved in one of those typical Christian positions, isn’t empty but holds a book. Either it is nearly the same color as the blankets, or some pigment has degraded over time, because the book isn’t obvious at first, but there is a definite outline of it, and there is an area specified by the father’s hand that is of a different shade and in the shape of a book. So that once you see it….

Speaking of which, doesn’t it still seem too difficult to read psychology journals online? Here is an interesting article on that. And so many of the books I read are carefully cited. I write notes to follow up on the papers, but I haven’t developed the habit of actually doing that. What is the obstacle?

I find Meshuggah to be the music most conducive to problem-solving because of its patterns-with-variation. It feels like approaching a problem over and over, with minor adjustments. They repeat themselves, but there are all of these adjustments. Their riffs are like algorithms they feel they can’t quite get right. Their music is frustrated, not assured. Chevelle’s music is frustrated, too, but it feels assured in its frustration. As if they know what is wrong. Meshuggah is stabbing in the dark, over and over. Chevelle’s music implies there is spiritual decay and deficit. Meshuggah’s implies there are engineering problems and temporary countermeasures and rage, and that we are fundamentally fucked.

It seems many musicians produce a song as if they have solved this problem they have set for themselves. Meshuggah’s tracks are essays. They are showing you their work, with no solution. All of their tracks are about impediments they cannot pass. One imagines them pushing with their left shoulder, then their right. Or tapping L, R, L, R, B, A over and over, and it only working 1/3 of the time.

Their tracks and riffs are the residue of their decisions, but they are also breaks from some other set of tasks that they are more involved in.

Wasn’t a major role of music to keep time for workers, for rowing and hammering, and so on? I imagine that music made of standard repetitions. It says, let’s all do precisely this for awhile. Meshuggah’s tracks say, “We’ve tried all of these things. We ache and have sores on our hands and elbows, and yet our progress is dismal. This is our fever dream, our search for some better progress.”

jealous gods

The mother and child are curled in a sleep
embrace when he appears.  While eclipses
and other disorienting acts of god

validate hitherto minor prophets,
looking back, jealous gods are predictable. 

They restrain themselves by day, and others
by night. Children crave security in patterns. 

Such visceral arrangements animate us,
and in placing, securing, and in holding down, 
we wander yet into the wilderness.

Necessary Evils


The problem with the typewriter is the way I interpret its sound. Like all writing machines, it produces drafts, but its click clack implies more. Think about All the President’s Men, or any other movie about a newspaper before the 1990’s. That mechanical firing promises the production of final products. Those serious newsmen faces. My feeling from them isn’t that their intention is to produce mutable products.

But in that scene where Bob Woodward (Redford) punches the pages out and Carl Bernstein (Hoffman) pens in corrections in black ink (or was it blue?), even then there is a seriousness in the air as those pages roll off the platen.

I collected Olivetti’s when I was a teenager, but worrying about the future availability of printer ribbon was stressful, so I gave them away. Now I write with a mechanical keyboard, and my letters appear on an LED screen. They are neither here nor there. Sometimes, when my anxiousness calls for it, I print out the pages so I can put marks on them. That is wasteful, and it feels wasteful. It feels like a sin. But so does writing words that in some sense don’t exist. A corrupted or missing file somehow seems scarier than a ruined or lost sheet.

I imagine a pot-bellied journalist (Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gust Avrakotos in Charlie Wilson’s War, but a journalist instead of a case officer for the CIA) in a shouting match. He is shouting because there is something about his output that he wanted to be final. Instead, revisions are proposed. Without this argument over revisions, it is hard to imagine the seriousness that precedes it. Typewriters aren’t tentative. Imagining harmonious revisions makes the click clack seem strange. But that’s what was happening in that All The President’s Men scene.

And even ignoring revisions, those pages are only input for the press. Are the pages ever saved? Maybe if its an historic story?

Which evils are necessary? Writing is hard work, and doing it rarely feels like the right thing to do. It is so subjective. My mind wanders. I wonder if focusing so intensely on a subjective discipline isn’t harmful for my mental health. Isn’t it more salubrious to focus on problems with real solutions, like equations and lines of code? 

By the way, that modulation at the penultimate syllable of the line, “Go fuck yourself, you fucking child.” Have you ever heard anything like that in a movie? That shift is involuntary, psychogenic.  Can someone do that on purpose? Maybe if they practice enough. But it seems more likely that it was involuntary, the product of a real feeling. 

Writing is hard, so I try to adopt habits to facilitate it. But it feels wasteful in every way. It is either unstable, as with LED, or parasitic, as with cutting down trees for taking notes. And isn’t thinking what’s important, anyway? Why is writing necessary?

What is the problem with this essay so far? It’s that these problems are boring. These are problems to be solved or swallowed, not committed to essay.

Fine, fine. 

The Superego

As a child, I had a habit of reading beyond what I could comprehend, so I was reading about Freud’s ideas before adolescence, though very little since then. I never had feelings for the idea of the superego.

No, my inner critic was not the internal representation of my towering circle of elders. I heard my dad. I knew what he was saying. My conscience was something else.

Maybe so, but what about now? This question has recently opened up an awkward crevasse. I had read an essay by Maria Popova about the banality of self-criticism. It struck me as true. Its point is that our inner critic is usually unimaginative. But, wait—why? I’m not unimaginative. 

And then I was doing an exercise from the book Conscious LovingThe exercise is to, at least one time throughout the day, notice when you feel stuck and to say in your head, I am stuck. 

And then you ask yourself, “Whose voice is that?”

Some of the exercises feel forced, but this one flowed. I did not need to strain to make out whose voice it was. I could even see her, sitting on the loveseat, in her blue microfiber robe, eating Tostitos chips and cheese, halfway watching whatever was on a small television set crammed in the corner of the same closet that the loveseat was crammed into, halfway watching nothing. That was my mom.

Maybe that got me thinking, without realizing it, about the sources of my spontaneous impressions and self-talk. Suddenly that obscure, slippery word seemed to turn over and speak clearly. My parents were monotonous. Their criticism wasn’t nuanced. The word didn’t seem apt then. When I was still around them, they were distinct, but now that we are decades apart, they have merged.

But I suppose Maria Popova’s parents’ criticism was more sophisticated? So maybe the job of the superego is to synthesize and flatten the criticism, make it more conservative? Or maybe Maria Popova’s inner critic is way more liberal than mine, or even way less aggressive or pernicious, but the superego, always in rivalry with the more urbane ego, sounds the same when talked about, even by strangers, even when those strangers have utterly different internal experiences from my own, because it is always put in contrast with their other representatives. The superego is that internal experience that, contrasted with our other internal experiences, sounds negative and tedious and stifling. So does that mean that my ego and id  are also less spontaneous and egalitarian? I mean, clearly. But even if it weren’t, that would just mean that there was greater contrast, which would cause tension and anxiety and mood swings. Check, and check.

But who is it in the psyche that is always updating the face and voice of the critic? 

The Self-aware Woman on Main Street

Why am I willfully wasteful of my resources?

Just down the street from my apartment building is a convenience store. It is a sad place. The owner is an obese Christian who smokes cigarettes and throws them on the sidewalk. As I was walking home in a gray afternoon, I saw a young woman in an olive green jacket and torn jeans leaving it. Her eyes were close set and round. They were the eyes of a girl who stares at a bug and sees the bug itself, but she was lost in some internal examination, and my stomach hurt for her.

“I don’t have any money left because I spend it on this crap.”

She pressed past the door and was off down the street. I could not make out what she was carrying.


I act. I see and hear.  And I ask, what is the world like, and how should I behave?

Sometimes I feel on top of things. As if I were a bull rider. In this configuration, my attention is drawn to staying on top of things. Or finding more things to be on top of.

Call it preference, but this is a demotivating understanding of the world and my role in it. What I’m above is distinctly less interesting to me than what I’m below. 

And, while the phrase, what is the world like, and how should I behave isn’t bad, my mind prefers directing its questions outward. Isn’t that where practically everything is? If I round down, I understand zero percent of it.  So I ask, God, what is my aim? 

There is no answer, naturally. What if there were? I wonder. I talked recently with a man who said God spoke to him. I did not find his company salutary. 

But impressions are produced, nonetheless, and words and images. Strange rushes of energy spread down my left humerus. I act. I see and hear.


I want to talk about self control, but in a funny way.

It was two years ago that I made the decision to never eat shredded wheat again. Standing at the kitchen sink, bowl and spoon in hand, frantically trying to picture what it was I needed my esophagus to do for me. Was it a contraction and relaxation cycle that was needed? Was it like pinching a straw and pulling your fingers down its length? Or was it just to relax? And what happens when food gets stuck, exactly? The food was below the larynx, but how much internal pressure and friction could my esophagus (mine, in particular) withstand before it gave out in some way? What would that like?

What would it be like to die from shredded wheat? The shredded wheat, besides having a tendency to plug, was abrasive. I was essentially packing a scouring pad down my throat over and over, with a little milk. Was the milk helping? Isn’t Elmer’s glue made from milk? Isn’t that why the cow? And clearly it was causing the wheat to expand. Besides essentially praying, the only tactic I could think of was sipping milk and pacing.

Later, I would wonder why I didn’t try jumping up and down. Landing hard on my heels. 

I knew that high blood pressure causes the arteries to stretch. That stretching causes tearing. Gunk gets caught in those tears, restricting  flow, which causes more stretching, which leads to more tearing, which leads to more gunk getting caught, which ends in blockage and myocardial infarction. Or such is my understanding. Does that happen with the esophagus? 

My problem, I understood, was that I ate shredded wheat too quickly, and I could not rely on myself not to. If I survived this event, I had to altogether stop eating shredded wheat. I had already made this same promise twice before just this week, so this time it had to be real or else. My intuitive grasp of statistics made me certain of it. There is, in the laws of the universe, some probabilistic ratio of near-misses to terminal incidents, and, while one could not call any given roll of the dice based on the previous one, one could make a prediction about a large enough set of rolls.  So my rolling of the shredded wheat dice had to stop. It wasn’t that I was due to die next time, but I had to stop before my continued survival began to appear miraculous. 

I thought about this today while wondering if this would be that day that I die, not from a ruptured esophagus, but from a more banal choking death on pinto beans and Cholula. 

Is it even possible to stop eating pinto beans?


Cells within cells, interlinked
I want to talk about the paradox of wanting to be finished. And (I want to talk about) the scale of control. And how they relate to one another.

What we can influence
We learn that the alternative to imagining Sisyphus happy is imagining him immobile at the bottom of the slope. How can I say what I want to say? If I don’t aim to write perfect sentences, they will be mediocre. Yet, after struggling with a sentence, I want to admire it. But a writer who falls in love with their sentences is crippled. It is disloyalty to our last decision that allows us to haul the boulder. Each full stop, the boulder crashes down again.

This holds true for everything. So for example suppose you want to be organized. You want to find homes for things and put them there. But struggling to find a home for a thing, and knowing your habit of forgetting that you’ve created a home for a thing, you want to memorialize the event. You perform a small ceremony.

Ah, you say, This goes here. I love that. And now you cannot organize any longer, slave to what was, just a moment before, an improvement on its predecessor.  

Choose your poison. Haul the boulder, or languish at the bottom.

If you try to find a way to secure your position—say, to create a dimple at the top of the slope where the boulder can rest—be sure that have chosen  a popular poison indeed. All genocide and scorched-earth measures are alike in their aim to solve a problem once and for all.

This is what Schellenberg is saying in Evolutionary Religion. The appropriate picture of God, given what we know of the changes in these few millennia alone, and in the context of a deep future impossible to imagine, is sparsely detailed. Our rituals should follow that logic. Aspire without circumscribing. Most of the details might come from what we know Heaven cannot be.

What we can control
So, on the scale of control—it’s not a dichotomy or a trichotomy, but a scale, maybe a spectrum, but that’s pushing it—how do we divide our attention? What is on the dependent variable side, or what is on the independent variable side? Or, with fewer syllables, what is the ration of 0’s to 4’s in our mind’s eye?

Influence / Dependent variable
Control / independent variable

I had a dream in which the line dividing two cells kept being divided. I woke up tasting mustard.

So with science we add to the list of what is 4. We atheists talk of The God of the Gaps, usually referring gaps in knowledge. But that seems naive. People aren’t so interested in knowledge, but power. We put God in the places we can’t control.

Is it a coincidence that when I want to define what I mean when I say I, I must use the same technique as when I want to describe Heaven—in negatives? I am not my brain, I am not my spinal column, I am not my left foot. Heaven isn’t a place where we can put people in cages for offending us. Etc.

Yes, some people have God Delusions, and some people have Self Delusions, but how many of us just find these metaphors useful?

So wanting to be finished is focusing on the lower side of the scale, where we have less control. But thinking about what it means to be finished is prerequisite to being able to even do the right work.  

I heard once that swimming is used to teach this lesson. Spend most of your time with your head down, looking up to ensure you’re headed in the right direction.

After a coaching session yesterday, I asked the Learner, “On a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is ‘not at all’ and 5 is ‘very well,’ how well do you understand what I juste described to you.”
He replied: “one.”
I was grateful. How wonderful to have an output metric.

So, we imagine our outcome as vividly as we can. We imagine our methods for achieving them as vividly as we can. So that we can differentiate where we are from where we want to be and so we can become conscious of all of the gaps and questions in our plans. As we fills those gaps and answer those questions, we pave the way.




Branching Horrors
Their second professional anxiety dream came from the unsustainability of mopping the back room floor, with its missing baseboards, numerous cardboard boxes, and laminate tiles. Imagine them waking to moving pictures of sudsy waves breaking against the dry wall, soaking into the boxes, seeping in the gaps of the tiles and breaking down the adhesive. 

This disproportionate concern over a convenience store structure bothered them at first. They couldn’t explain it to others. But over time they realized that this was metaphorical thinking. If a large corporation couldn’t figure out the hygiene of mopping, what else? What kind of system are we working in? What of telephone polls, new roads, wastewater treatment? Is anyone thinking it through? Are they even allowed to?



What our heroes aim for
The internet attributes it to Confucius, but I can’t find verify that. Anyway, the sentence is “When a wise man points at the moon, the imbecile examines the finger.” Interpretations vary, but for me this evokes what it’s like to study the mannerisms of a hero such that we are distracted from their guiding principles and purposes.  

I’ve been rereading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, watching the BBC miniseries, and watching the Smiley’s People BBC miniseries. I notice the impulse to imitate the movements and mannerisms of people that I admire, my attention on those movements and mannerisms, distracted from my aims.

Of course we mirror the mannerisms of people that we respect when we are with them. This is observed. But I’m talking about modeling our behavior after characters. Not even real people. Children do this, and adults aren’t supposed to. What is it that causes adults to continue with it?

The purpose of flaws
Critics seem to love talking about how wonderful are the flaws of a protagonist. The last thing one wants is for their hero to be insufficiently flawed. George Smiley is a modern demigod notable for his flaws. And they aren’t popular flaws for characters to have. He doesn’t drink excessively or cheat on his wife or go into rages. He isn’t a vagabond waiting for a cause. His flaws go the other way. They are timidity, patriotism, and something of an inferiority complex. He berates himself for his weaknesses early in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, listing weakness itself as the worst of them. He has just endured the company of a prying idiot, and he reflects that it wasn’t politeness that motivated him, but weakness. 

This is the kind of confession that we can only make to ourselves, because friends generously deny it. No, they will say, it was kindness.

Smiley isn’t a demigod like Hercules. His strengths don’t pertain to his body, but to his habits. He is more like Odysseus, but less dynamic. He is studious, observant, reflective, and strategic. He has an excellent memory, which could be seen as a characteristic of his body, but there’s a wrinkle: it is implied at least that his memory is a result of his habits. When he listens, he closes his eyes, as if in a trance. He asks questions to understand. He spends much of his time reading and rereading sentences, taking notes, studying them, reading more. The main action scenes of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy have George holed up in Hotel Islay, an “elderly mansion”, seated at a rickety Georgian desk, poring over secret documents.

At my own meager desk, drawing the squares of a process map, he comes to mind, and I feel an affectation creep in. I get over it, of course. I recall what is sustainable. 

 What is sustainable is looking up and seeing an unattainable point, and striving towards it. Always being below that line, so I always have something to do.

George is compared from the beginning to Bill Roach, an overweight child of divorced parents, attending the prep school Thursgood’s, where Jim Prideaux, who teaches there, befriends him. Jim Prideaux is the opposite of George Smiley in that he is physical and adventurous and only adopted intellectual discipline out of necessity, to trim his apparent weakness and improve his role in his partnership with the more analytical Bill Haydon, whom Jim admired.

Better flaws to have
So we like our demigods to have flaws. We like them to want too much. Gilgamesh, Sisyphus, Icarus. 

Since we get to choose them, what flaws should the modern hero have?

Personifying virtue
Clearly humans find personification a useful mental tool. I’ve heard many programmers call the object on the screen that they were discussing “guy”. “This guy grays out until you select a radio button.”

It’s easier to ask, What is George Smiley like? than to ask What is the virtue of dogged investigation? Note that this is precisely what Socrates did not do. He analyzed the virtues themselves. He exposed our illusion of explanatory depth applied to ethics.  Maybe characters are more entertaining.

But the problem for me has always been, unconsciously, I have been looking for a hero to admire, as a person. And when I find one, I adopt parts of their personality that are not essential to what makes them good. Wouldn’t it be easier if we had heroes we could imitate outright? 

Anyone who has read a book about how to write knows that you need to understand the motivation of a character to make them interesting. But doesn’t this formulation get things backwards? It assumes that the role of the writer is to make interesting characters. Why shouldn’t it be to write interestingly about characters struggling to achieve ideals? 

And isn’t assuming too much to say that characters need flaws? They need to be relatable, and flaws are a convenient way to achieve that. But it seems more important that they make mistakes and learn from them.

When Alexandra says to George, “Mother Felicity says that in every ordinary person, there is a part that is God”, he replies, after “uncharacteristic hesitation,” “I have heard it said too.”

We like to attribute personhood to the objects of our admiration. The law with corporations, doters with their cats. To be a person is to be important. The least important of us is called an unperson. George Smiley threatens Counselor Grigoriev and his family with this status in Smiley’s People. They will become unpersons, he warns. 

In Blade Runner 2049, this tendency is highlighted in societal attitudes towards replicants. As the protagonist, KD6-3.7, takes the corridor of LAPD headquarters to receive his baseline, an officer accosts him, hissing “Fuck off, skin-job,” and as he enters his apartment at the end of the day, we see that a neighbor has written  “FUCK OFF SKINNER” in bold on his door. 

So while I was staring at Socrates, I wondered about his hero. He talked about Zeus and other gods. He said that piety was his aim. That’s why he criticized, questioned, and didn’t lie.

But Socrates’s ideal wasn’t personified, was it? If it was, he couldn’t make out the face of it. That’s why the inquiry. 

Aren’t we supposed to worship the god of our hero?

Focusing on the real obstacles
I have a Tiny Habit  of facing a bust of Socrates after I set down my back pack after work. I reflect on what he was trying to achieve, and I feel gratitude for his effort and the effort of those who have continued with his aim by publishing Plato’s writings.

I ask myself what I have done to achieve those same ends. I recall moments in the day where I was not resourceful. I replay those instances differently, with that inadequate behavior replaced with an improved version

 If I recall an instance in which I felt embarrassed but was not obviously deviating from my aim, then I accept it as a sacrifice. In other words, if I feel that my behavior wasn’t well received but I was mindfully making decisions, I will think twice about revising the memory.  I’ll search the day for more obvious sins(1) and address those instead. If everything is important, nothing is. 

One reason that I like Smiley is that he is an anxious person, but, being an agent of espionage, his fears are warranted, and he is always developing countermeasures against their being realized. This is the characteristic of his I admire most. 

It is popular to preach against this practice today. We are told to live in the moment and not prepare for what horrors might come. Mindfulness writers say this. It’s strange. If devising strategies to mitigate undesirable outcomes were bad, then why write an article advocating for or against a given behavior? They should just sit and breathe.

I sometimes wonder if some folks who write about mindfulness are subconsciously aiming to neutralize their audience. Isn’t that always an end of religion, anyway?

Prometheus, known for embodying scientific advancement and its dangers, also embodies forethought

Of course, we need to choose what we plan for. Compulsive reacting won’t help. But in the fields we are knowledgeable in, we should be able to predict and prepare.

So, even though we know we shouldn’t imitate the weaknesses of our heroes, we might do it, anyway. We should try to notice when we do it and correct ourselves.  O → O → D→ A.

(1) The second sentence of the wikipedia article on sin reads
“Sin can also be viewed as any thought or action that endangers the ideal relationship between an individual and God; or as any diversion from the perceived ideal order for human living.”
While this claim lacks a citation, I think it is very accurate and is how I’m using the term. Of course, the Hebrew term hatta’h also applies. The linked article, the author observes that, while the etymology is to miss the mark, as in archery, its actual use in the Torah is “to commit an offense against someone with whom one stands in an institutionalized community relationship.” This definition makes sense, especially if you consider how much of the Hebrew Bible is procedural instruction on how to deal with personal disputes with a fellow Jew. 

→ Σ →

At the office, I have been ramping up my process-mapping behavior.

I have been getting a lot of people involved. I have been sending to the print shop jobs that come out twenty feet long. The analogy I have been using is a machine shop.

We have been standing side by side facing the process maps, pointing and discussing and marking them up. We have been asking what we mean by the words, the order. We ask what happens if you remove a step, or if you perform two in parallel instead of treating one as a predecessor of the other.

In a machine shop, all of the equipment is three-dimensional. The machines are actual machines that you can see and manipulate. But in a well-run machine shop, there will be visual aids, showing pinch points, showing proper operation of the equipment, maybe listing the steps. Even when the operation is more or less obvious, when the input, the method, and the output really matter, there are job aids.

A coworker and I spent several minutes this week trying to figure out how to adjust the back-stop on a three-hole punch.

And yet when you walk through the cubicle farm, it’s just desks and computers. Every process is abstract. The software developer’s desk looks the same as the administrative assistant’s. 

So I have been hanging up process maps on people’s cubicles and discussing their work with them. We have been marking up the maps as we discuss them. Then I update it, print it out again, and hang up the new one. Then we discuss again.

This should be a standard, an absolute minimum. If your people don’t want to draw out their processes, then they shouldn’t be allowed to perform them.

Of course it’s uncomfortable. Of course some people quibble. Breathe through that. Turn every obstacle and objection into a question. Savor every good question. Revise every lousy question, making it a little more adequate, and then attempting to answer it. Use that mediocre but serviceable question as input into the process of producing a better question. Answered questions are process steps. 

There is always an input, a method, and an output. Rely on that.

Of course all of this is futile. The only justifiable job now is shutting the office down in a humane and orderly manner, making way for automation.  Yes, AI is taking over everything. I’m trying to gracefully close the shop, sweeping up behind me, nudging the humans efficiently and gracefully in their progression to obsolescence.

The only legitimate job is moving consciously towards obsolescence. Anyone who tries to keep their job is being subversive and trivial. The only sustainable method to be employed at this point is to constantly try to make yourself unnecessary. If you do that, you might make yourself useful.

We’re all likely die of dehydration, anyway.

As Klinkenborg intimated, wanting to be done is the devil. Breathing through the obstructions, the resistance, the dismal explosions of anxiety, and asking, how do I respond to this? is the only method I can find worth following.

Inquiry is a tricky skill to develop, isn’t it? Often, there are so many shitty questions to sort through before a useful one surfaces. And the utility of even that one deteriorates.

It seems as if we learn the same lessons over and over, but maybe it’s like a spiral, always returning to the same location, but a little higher, or a little lower.

Heraclitus is more relevant than he ever was.

The concept of dukka is more relevant than it ever was. Someone has observed that suffering is quite a poor translation of dukka. More like dissatisfactoriness. Was it Goldstein or Batchelor? Probably.

It’s so pathetic and poetic to say life is suffering. Clearly it isn’t. But dissatisfactory? Yes. That’s how we’re wired. That is the one necessary characteristic of a macroorganism. We want. We want it to start, and we want it to be over with. We want it to speed up or slow down. We want to do it again, or never have to.

I love the term that the Stoics used, impressions. This is so relevant when trying to be mindful. The impressions are so subtle, aren’t they? A caught breath. A snag you don’t even notice anymore, but which nonetheless affects your behavior. We have to notice all of these in order to sand them out, to level our behavior, to continue refining the process.


Every Effort is Inadequate, Thank God

This week, I have been productive. Also, last week.

Inquiry is the Prime Virtue
This is also an update on my back in regard to Dr. Sarno’s book Healing Back Pain. My back felt pain after eleven hours at the office. In the mode of Sarno, I asked myself what precisely I was feeling. Was it pain, actually? I started a session to clean the kitchen. Right away, I had an impulse to listen to Meshuggah. Once Meshuggah was playing, I began thrashing about, jumping and hurling my torso to and fro. The pain went away. What I had been feeling was stiffness.

Note that in the past I would have rested on a heating pad for this same symptom.

The template I am using for sessions right now is to turn a sheet of paper landscape, and draw a t across it.

On the front I write If in the top left shoulder of the t, and Then in the top right. Beneath the Then, I write my intended outcome, my expectation, my prediction…whatever–the future–maybe the standard by which I will inspect the outcome–how I’ll know it worked.

For example:

If Then

I do such and such…
Here, if I have a standard process, I name it, otherwise just describe the steps or method I intend to perform.

This is the independent variable. In the dichotomy of control, this is what I can control.

…such and such will be the outcome. I often write this section before writing the If section.

This is the dependent variable. In the dichotomy of control, this is what I can’t. I can only influence it.

Of course, I’m looking for causation.


On the back, I write a t, and write Inspect on the top left shoulder of the t, and Reflect on the top write shoulder of it.

For example:

Inspect Reflect
What actually happened. Did I learn anything?

The square denotes a session. This is a standard method, so I don’t consider it an experiment. It’s just a time box with some inquisitiveness to it because I felt demotivated. I had felt very demotivated right before starting it. I was also trying to decide whether to drive to OKC to visit friends. I was lethargic and did not even want to think about that decision.

Stand-up Meetings, working in teams
At work, we have been using Microsoft Teams. It accepts copy-pasted tables from Word very well. For working with people remotely, I have been using a daily standup format like this:

Goal 1 Goal 2 Goal 3

Aim: what is this task in service of, at a high level?  Is there a defined project? Is there a principle you’re attempting to adhere to? This can be a direction, a vision, or a summary task. 

Whatever this is, it’s big and distant.

Aim: Aim:

Objective: what is the desired outcome or output of this task. This is the dependent variable, the thing you can influence but not directly control.

If this is a standard process (say, a meeting), what is the standard by which you judge the output? If this is more experimental, what is your prediction?

Whatever this is, it’s smaller and closer than the Aim, and it is aligned with it.

Objective: Objective:
Method: what will you be doing? This is the independent variable, what you can control, or at least relatively. Is there a standard method, or is this experimental? If it’s an experiment, what, precisely, is the testing procedure? Method: Method:
Inspect: what actually happened? If you used a standard method, did it produce the intended outcome? If this was experimental, what was the result, contrasted with your prediction? Inspect: Inspect:
Reflect: did you learn anything? What does this imply for next steps? If you used a standard method, does it still seem to work fine, or does the output indicate the method needs improved? Reflect: Reflect:

I have been using three priority goals per week, and three priority goals per day. This doesn’t account for all of my work, obviously. It’s just what I choose as the priority and what I choose to report on.

I leave the Reflect field blank sometimes.

Everything is Unsatisfactory
In this cycle of hypomania, what grounds me is to not love any process, any method, any form, any piece of paper, any session, any experience. All anything is worth is its relative effectiveness at aligning our behavior with an aim. 

What is my aim? I don’t want us to go extinct. I don’t want us to use up our fossil fuel before developing adequate renewable energy to run the desalinization units we will need when we drain and contaminate all of the aquifers. I don’t want us to already have created an AI arms race. I don’t want for us to be so stupid as to act as if we can care about and be effective in multiple causes at once, talking about every fucking gossipy social or political concern that crosses our awareness, never mind our imminent extinction. 

So, yes, I enjoyed cleaning my kitchen, but I am able to hold some perspective.

But what is my aim, actually? Something like aligning my efforts with increasing critical thinking and continuous improvement so that people’s individual lives (the microcosm) create, from the ground up, a sustainable system. 

Clearly I don’t know how. But thinking this way takes the edge off the hypomania. I keeps me inquiring – what can I do in regards to us being about to collectively kill ourselves?

So I am looking into changing industries and continuing to make moves towards coaching individuals to be more effective in their daily lives.

The why is what I have had a hard time with, still, but I am not avoiding it now.