October 31st, 2022
10:46 am – There is an ocean of form between the five-paragraph essay and the jazz of “Naked Lunch.” Templates are amazing for learning. But don’t build your castle on sand.
8:15 am – Burroughs: “He laughed, black insect laughter that seemed to serve some obscure function of orientation like a bat’s squeak."
8:14 am – Pessoa quote, relates to AI: "The other road is that of perfect equilibrium, the search for the Limit in Absolute Proportion, whereby the longing for the Extreme passes from the will and emotion to the Intelligence, one’s entire ambition being not to live all life or to feel all life but to organize all life, to consummate it in intelligent Harmony and Coordination. The longing to understand, which in noble souls often replaces the longing to act, belongs to the sphere of sensibility. To replace energy with the Intelligence, to break the link between will and emotion, stripping the material life’s gestures of any and all interest – this, if achieved, is worth more than life, which is so hard to possess in its entirety and so sad when possessed only in part. The argonauts said* that it wasn’t necessary to live, only to sail. We, argonauts of our pathological sensibility, say that it’s not necessary to live, only to feel.
8:07 am – How can we structurally prevent propaganda? “The public” is seen as a swarm of idiots that must be swayed. You could imagine an idealized blockchain democracy, where all upper rank communication is transparency, auditable, and public. Of course, this feels like a national security threat, since rogue nations and competitors get free intel. Maybe the idea of “keeping the public in the dark,” is the only rational move given the immaturity of our institutions and information systems. Still, the effects suck. To ignore the information asymmetry is to be naive, and to surface and interpret the information asymmetry is to be a conspiracy theorist. What innovations could touch on this?
8:04 am – Re-association, humility, and ego-malleability — these three things are a massively underrated skill. Whether it comes to the work itself, or the creator’s conception of what they need to make. The absence of these traits may be the cause of great artists going stale. Listen to Dylan in the 80s. Something is obviously missing. It’s like a script is being carried out that doesn’t have that intangible force he tapped into in the 60s and 70s (I've heard him reference this too). Creativity coaches (say, Rick Rubin), seem to have that touch to re-wire waning artists.
“If you are a great athlete you will of course have some level of ego as you've basically been winning at everything your entire life, and to some degree this is a good thing—confidence matters—but it can also be your downfall if taken too far, the thing that prevents you from adapting your style of play or developing a new skill (not to mention how too much ego can make you a bad teammate or selfish player).”
8:02 am – Great writers have at least these three things going for them — 1) technical skill, 2) the ability to generate lots of ideas, 3) the ‘ear’ to identify which ones to double down on. This last thing is what AI might always lack. It’s not something in the realm of logos, but ethos. The gut impression of, 'this one idea is intangibly better than the other 25,' is hard to rationalize or calculate. We can get more specific about the role of AI in the creative process if we can actually define the creative process.
“Pop songwriting has an alchemical quality, much like chess greatness. Some people just have that irreducible extra bit. Recently, I learned that a few medications give you an odd side effect called carbonation dysgeusia, the inability to detect effervescence—fizzy drinks seem flat. Great melody writers have melodic carbonation geusia: they know bubbles when they feel them. They go sha na na, and they’ve written, say, Miss Misery. (Yes, that’s after years of practice, but Elliott Smith wrote this song when he was fucking thirteen years old—outliers are outliers.) Some people, like me, have a little bit of it, but not the whole thing.”
7:57 am – Pessoa, each block is an image.
The entire life of the human soul
Is mere motion in the shadows
We live in a twilight of consciousness,
never in accord with
. . . whom we are
. . . or think we are.
Everyone harbors some kind of vanity,
and there’s an error
. . . whose degree we can’t determine.
We’re something that goes on
. . . during the show’s intermission;
. . . sometimes, through certain doors,
. . . . . . we catch a glimpse of what may be
. . . . . . no more than scenery.
The world is one big confusion,
like voices in the night.
7:51 am – What if teaching / tutoring is a fundamental skill? Instead of these centralized nodes (who teach, but teach so often, they’re absorbing less), what if teaching was enabled through a peer-to-peer structure? At any point, a person is teaching 5, and learning from another 5 (Sklar’s point). This also feels like a solution to Hoel’s problem, that we could never re-create the system of tutoring in the pre-modern world. It feels possible through the Internet, though it would be logistically, pretty hard. A platform would have to bake in the fundamentals of how tutors transmit skill, and how learners signal their blocks. It would also have to bake in clear terms around contracts, terms, availability, and payment, since that unknown is usually the friction that prevents these kinds of grassroots partnerships.
7:50 am – “No work of art is ever finished; it can only be abandoned in an interesting place.” From a Jeff Tweedy book on songwriting. Deadlines help burst the illusion that an essay can be ‘completed.’
7:47 am – William S. Burrough makes a metaphor between junkies and squirrels. Whether it’s acorns or heroin, there’s a shared philosophy of storing a surplus in case of future famines or busts. There’s something heavy about connecting addition with suburban wildlife.
October 30th, 2022
10:21 pm – From Pat Simmons: Great tactic. Reminds me of Paddy Chayefsky: “As soon as I figure out the theme of my play, I write it down on a thin strip of paper and Scotch-tape it to the front of my typewriter. After that, nothing goes into that play that isn’t on-theme.”
12:31 pm – In the spirit of Hallowwen, check out this AI-generated version of The Beatles – If I Fell. Listen for at least 1 minute and 30 seconds. It goes from 0 > spook in under a second.
10:16 am – I should write an essay on ‘automatic writing.’ Screw AI, what if you could get possessed by spirits and write in automatic prose? The imagination functions in a weirdly similar way to AI. Your life is your training data. You can tap into to an auto-generated stream of images, sound, and language. I usually tap in during those hypnagogic moments before sleep. But it’s a muscle you can train. This was Carl Jung’s thing. For 30 years, he built a practice of tapping into his subconscious, which took the form of hyper-realistic virtual reality experiences. They were filled with entities too. With the rise of AI, it brings jazz, the subconscious, and the imagination into the focus. How has no one made this link yet?
9:46 am – We’re entering the age of Infinite Radio. An algorithm will procedurally generate music, 24/7. It won’t just be random. Stations will have themes. “Infinite Funk.” “Infinite Here Comes the Sun.” “Infinite Grateful Dead Cosmic Noodling with Mandolins.” Not only will it be algorithmic, but it will be social. Thousands of listeners will be piped in, liking moments, and leaving comments. All of the engagement will tweak the algorithm in real-time. It’s the kind of live performance that is guided by feedback, in literally real-time. It’s almost of a form of collective telepathic art. An algorithm can generate lyrics based on chat comments.
October 29th, 2022
12:21 pm – A good shiny dime is specific and counter-intuitive, not broad and obvious.
1:59 am – Strung on caffeine, in the residue of Twitter mind, I'm awake in bed. The pipes start to speak in Morse code as I try to transition into dreaming.
October 28th, 2022
8:25 pm – I'm on Hypefurry's website considering a purchase, but the marketing page is so vague. "Your personal assistant to grow & monetize." This might be 51% of people want, but not me. It's doing it's job of 'focusing on the end,' but it isn't my end, so their whole angle doesn't land with me. 'Never struggle to come up with new content again,' also not my problem. WHERE ARE THE FEATURES!? I'm fiending to zoom in and know the technical details of what this will offer me, but they're nowhere to be found. This whole 'don't sell them the fireball, sell them the leveled-up Mario' shpiel is a great meme, but annoying for a savy customer.
NEW MYTHS ABOUT GOD
11:23 am – A man in the sky. White, robbed, loving, 7 billion eyes, to watch over each of us. It’s a very anthrocentric myth. It takes the human and extrapolates it outwards. Outside of time and space is a mystery, how was it created, oh, obviously, another human! And now with computers, now that we can make computer simulations, we extrapolate that outward, we must be living in a simulation! '
Truth is, we might never be able to observe what exists outside of space & time. A fundamental limit that might never be crossed (similar to Death, if there is anything beyond, or just Nothingness). And so while we can never observe, it doesn’t mean we should abandon comprehension. Extrapolation could work here.
Are there patterns and principles within the natural universe that might explain what exists beyond it? Totally feasible that there’s nothing. But, within our natural universe, fractals might be a clue. Self-repeating patterns at multiple scales. Sunflowers, look in, the seeds are sunflowers. There's something in the DNA that express this shape. And so it’s feasible to think that whatever exists outside of the perceivable has fingerprints that we can observe.
We can form “creation myths” — while not true, or observable, are in line with the fundamental laws of what we see in the natural universe. And one thing we see are cycles of creation and destruction, of novelty then entropy, of divergence then convergence. This cyclical nature of things, we see it across nature. Interestingly, it's baked into Hinduism. Beyond “Karma” (your local morality score) and rebirths of the soul, there's a lesser known facet of Hinduism around the constant destruction and recreation of the universe.
Could abstract visuals help convey this? Imagine floating particles, “God particles,” existing outside space time. There's no reason they exist, it's just the nature of reality. These particles float around, but have an attractions to each other. They cluster, and cluster, and cluster, until boom, all the particles gathered. The rare idiosyncratic combination creates a unique, singular, explosion. A kind of internal combustion. All these God particles are frozen, but a “Big Bang” is birthed. If the particles are like organic computer parts, then then internal universe is an organic "simulation." Within it, the laws of physics are consistent, the scripts run, life complexifies, consciousness forms, and then at some point it's so large and complex that it collapses in on itself. The universe de-stabilizes.
This isn’t the end of reality, but the end of the simulation. All the God particles detach. The force of destruction moves them outwards. They’re back to a swarm, but then slowly recluster, until another boom.. They all converge, and an entirely new universe, with different physical laws, emerges. Some universe are lame duds, and others are spectacular, beyond what we can conceive.
And this whole process might be rather rapid. The length of our whole timeline, from the Big Bang to the Black Dwarf, could be just one second in God-particle time. Endlessly generating. Blinking universes in and out of existence. A sublime rapid imagination for organized life. Just the nature of reality. And so just as humans are blips at the scale of the cosmos, the cosmos is just a blip in the scale of this organic reality machine.
Of course, this is all myth. I don’t understand physics, and not only can I not prove/disprove this, but science might never be able to touch this realm, regardless of our instruments. The question is more around the emotional effects these myths have. What conclusions or morality can you gain if this were true?
THE HEARTBEAT OF REALITY
7:17 am – As coffee brews, I find myself thinking about pseudo-folk science. What is beyond the universe? (I don’t even know what is beyond my kitchen). I have no qualifications here, with only a childish understanding of physics. But here we go.
The consensus is that space-time is a stable foundation. It is the axis. The canvas for Being to exist within. There could be Nothing within the Universe, and yet here we are with cosmos, chromosomes, and Chipotles. From the beginning of time till the end, everything unfolds in this one, singular, astral arena. Right? But what if that’s wrong?
My only way of guessing beyond space-time is to extrapolate smaller patterns outward (again, folk science). What if the foundation of everything is information? From Spanish, to Dell, to genetics, to space dust, to quarks. And what if information patterns always fall into patterns of divergence and convergence? Structures emerge through novelty, and then descend through entropy. Always, across all scales. From little bits of 1s and 0s, things complexify into extraordinary peaks (like consciousness), and then self-destruct, with all the bits returning back to primordial goop.
This happens at all scales: the rise and fall of flies, artists, cities, empires, species, and suns. But the goop isn’t the end. It’s an infinite cycle of creation and destruction (this sounds quite Hindu). Structure melts back into the swarm, and new things randomly emerge.
Maybe this cycle of novelty>entropy happens to everything within the Universe, INCLUDING the Grand Arena itself. Perhaps the ‘full spectrum’ of time, from our Big Bang origin, to our fate of getting consumed by a Black Dwarf, is all just one cycle. Once everything unravels, new, random, exotic unpredictable, forms of ‘cosmos’ (with new physical laws) emerge from the information swarm of reality.
What am I trying to say here? As impossible it is to comprehend the vastness of space and time, it is still, just a penny. Just as humans are a blip in the scale of the cosmos, the cosmos are a blip in the scale of reality. All of measurable time is just one second. Our whole canvas of Being/Nothing will be blinked away. Everything we could ever grasp, from the air to the gas giants, all exist within one pulse in the heartbeat of reality.
October 27th, 2022
3:22 pm – New fiction prompt: your fridge becomes sentient and the head of the household.
11:32 am – New philosophy around iOS desktop screens. Each one is a flow state: a particular activity that has to be done. When you come back to a Chrome tab that has 53 open tabs, you have no recollection of what was going on. You come back, and it's a mess. If you can orient desktops around a particular goal, then every object in that desktop has a known purpose.
11:26 am – The four types of days:
- One epic project, where everythign else is given minimal attention.
- Dozens of tiny tasks and Slack pings – mostly in reactionary mode.
- Scheduled days with 10 zoom calls
- Open days, with the freedom to diverge
10:26 am – Twitter is a quantity-fueled platform. Quality is rocket-fuel, but it requires a baseline of quantity. Even sharing 3 tweets a day, I grow 10% a week. Let that serve as a baseline.
8:11 am – Substack feels slimy to me in the way it pushes network effects. By taking one action, it spirals into suggesting me things, unprompted. 'Hey you subscribed to X, do you want to subscribe to Y too?' I don't even know that person, why is that assumed? Or, 'Hey, you subscribed to Z person, how about you post THIS on your Twitter feed?' It literally takes up the whole screen, and creates a unclear way to exit. Both times, I was hit with confusion. I could imagine someone else getting confused and just following the platform's wishes to get on with it. It feels aggressive. Like bullying or street-begging through digital UI.
October 26th, 2022
12:13 pm – Tone List
- Formal tone
- Informal tone
- Humorous tone
- Serious tone
- Optimistic tone
- Motivating tone
- Respectful tone
- Assertive tone
- Conversational tone
October 25th, 2022
10:14 pm – Hey shitheads. I'm back.
I've been constipated for the last 18 days. Creatively, of course. (Though, Pearl is literally constipated, since knee surgery is tough and oxycodone is a poop-blocker).
I started October strong. From an urge to express, I chewed on way more 'mediums' than I can digest. I tweeted, I logged, I newslettered, I started long-forms essays, and I literally bought a typewriter (mostly because Jack Kerouac, but partially because Google Docs doesn't work without Wi-Fi, and I want to be equipped to write prose through the end times).
This kind of burst is fine in the middle of December. That holiday hibernation where everyone disappears into a cloud of gingerbread steam is a great time to hunker down, get weird, and wrangle it into a repeatable system. It's way harder to experiment, mid-cohort. It's literally the busiest time of the year for me. I should've converged. I diverged. Oops. Now I wiggle with an indigestion of the soul. Lesson learned.
This week is a 6-course link fest. You have an over-drenched salad, two cheese spreads (one spicy, one blue), and three undercooked steaks. Pick 3.
I've realized that 'Dean's List' isn't living up to it's potential as a list. There's something baked into this name that I haven't tapped into yet. This name could be a 'high concept.' No, I'm not talking about marijuana abstractions. A 'high concept' is a title that is distinguishable, compelling, attention-grabbing, and most-importantly, 'self-evident.' You know a bunch of these. "Snakes on a Plane" is not about elephants on a train. "Star Wars" is not an underwater picnic.
October 24th, 2022
5:40 pm – Writing is a dance between internal and external resonance. I'm skeptical of the 'reader first' and 'reader only' models, which favor predictable persuasive templates over voice and expression.
9:50 am – My Google doc got haunted. I’m working on an essay about Ancient Greek religion. The priests at the Eleusinian Mysteries were called ‘hierophants.’ I used this word, and someone didn’t understand. So I wrote (hardcore monks) next to it. As soon I did, it started deleting. The cursor moved left, as if someone was holding down the backspace, and just deleting the note, the word, the sentence, the paragraph. Shit! I clicked into another place. And it started deleting from there. A writer’s nightmare. I couldn’t press any other key. Had to turn the keyboard off. It’s as if I upset the Ancient Greek spirits. Creepy coincidence.
9:09 am – Even the most sophisticated task management systems often devolve into writing what’s urgent on a Post-It.
October 22nd, 2022
2:30 pm – Time for a construction metaphor. Wet concrete is like malleable liquid thought. The wooden framework is the structure of your essay. The steel rebar that runs through is your voice, the threads that weave through the whole piece. New writers often have brilliant ideas, but have never built a building before, so they're basically spraying liquid concrete all over the site, in the hopes that it turns into a building.
October 21st, 2022
5:07 pm – Rik's three points on writing from conversation. 1) Silence. By not saying anything, you let some else guide the conversation. 2) Rephrase. By distilling their idea in your own words, and perhaps expanding on it, you confirm that a message was received. 3) Questions. By asking 'what do you mean? Or even, "say more, about X," you give them a prompt and guide their unfolding.
2:49 pm – Don't blow your load in the intro. It's vulgar advice, but memorable and helpful. If you give away the lesson up front, you don't create a reason to make it to the end of an essay. Your most important idea should come at the end. The intro is a tease.
2:45 pm – There's probably a correlation between log output and long-form essays. Working on 5 mid to long form essays at the same time, and my log output has tanked. I'm not sure if it's a lack of awareness of my micro-thoughts, or an absence of thought. My guess is that my spare mental bandwidth goes towards the pieces I'm working on, instead of new, emergent ideas.
October 20th, 2022
8:21 pm – I caught myself pondering which brand of beer will have better bunker vibes.
11:18 am –
If a student gets freaked out about AI — my answer would be:
AI can’t write with POP (yet).
- Your personal experience is uniquely yours.
- GPT-3 can’t string together observations in a remotely coherent way.
- When it comes to playfulness, your voice beats the voice of a robot trained on cliches.
It’s a bit like a slot machine. It’s mostly noise, but then eventually it gives you a compressed and poetic shiny dime:
Artificial intelligence threatens content-farm trash articles. It will dominate the quantity-focused domains. But humans still have an edge on quality (for now). For Personal Writing, machines don’t have access to your memories and experiences. This is a reminder to lace yourself into the page, and you’ll always be protected. For Observational Writing, GPT-3 can’t string together a sequence of coherent observations. it can generate shards of a mosaic, but you still have to assemble them. And in terms of your voice, it’s outputting the average of billions of words. It feels hollow, cliche, and void of aliveness.
The Written Word still needs a beating heart.
October 19th, 2022
10:16 pm – Writing software is unbundled. Each distinct feature has its own app. I use Grammarly for grammar, Hemingway for rhythm, Most Dangerous Writing App for flow, Miro for structure, Google Docs for Feedback, Lose the Very for Words. It’s a pain. I want a single Adobe-grade suit that has everything I need to write. I’d pay $500 a year for this. What would this software look like?
2:42 pm – Fantasia and the bending of time
1:38 pm – Introductions
1. Suspense: Julian Shapiro says that "storytelling is the art of strategically withholding information." For introductions, I try to hint at my main idea without revealing it. It creates a "curiosity gap." If done right, the reader keeps going to find out. Think of the intro as a question, the conclusion as the answer, and the essay as a path to connect them.
2. Orientation: This one is almost the opposite of suspense. I like to give the reader a "map" of what's included in the essay. Some people do this with bullet points, but you could also do it with a list sentence. If there are 3 sections to my essay, I'll try to hint at those 3 ideas in the intro (but in a hyper-compressed way).
3. Personal: I try to include some element of myself or my story in the introduction. It gives the reader context why I'm writing, and it makes it feel more human. Readers don't just want to hear the voice of the author, they want to see them.
9:08 am – The Beatles are role models in composition, lyricism, studio experimentation, marketing, and philosophy. To an impressionable 18-year old, each song was like a Bible verse, a riddle wrapped in hypnagogic candy, that if understood, could teach me a lesson that would rewire my psyche.
7:52 am – We are trained to look at lists and feel psychosis until they’re empty. The tragedy is the speed at which they’re repopulated. Instead, look at lists as dashboards of half-important options, not an excuse for tactical perfection in lieu of the important work.
7:46 am – The lack of a weekend is always felt. It keeps you on the front-heavy calendar mind. You need that moment to sit back, reset, reflect, pause before action, and write logs. Moments where I stop logging is are signs of over-exertion.
October 16th, 2022
5:43 pm – This isn't about writing your best essay, now! That's too much pressure. It's about creating the conditions so that every week you write the best essay you ever wrote, without realizing.
5:16 pm – Matchmaking among writers happen at different scales. To other students, to mentors, to editors, to authors, to articles.
12:50pm – Consciousness is usually reduced down to a narrow slice of survival, strategy, pleasure, or misery.
11:24 am – Words are the shadows of intention.
11:12 am --
- Terence McKenna on DMT (jump to 26:00) – Paraphrased: "On mushrooms you hear entities, but on DMT, you unmistakably hear them. I don't know how much of what I see is personal mythology, but for me, it's the center of the mystery. I fear it, I love it, and I thank God for it. I wonder if I'll ever understand it. It takes a huge mustering of courage on my part to even enter this space. Sure, we can talk about change, transformation, and dimensions all we want. But this is not talk. This is a dive into unknown parameters. After many, many DMT trips, I can finally paint a picture for myself of what's happening in there. I don't know anyone who has done it as much as I have. I wish people did it and talked about it more, because boy, if there's a landscape that we need some consensus on, this is it."
- Terence McKenna on War – Paraphrased – "We're coming now through a very narrow historical neck. We are caught within the accumulated stupidity of the past 5,000 years. The dues now have to be paid. It ain't fair. We didn't do it. We didn't bring the slaves from Africa, or invent oligarchy, or invent nuclear weapons. Nobody's interested in our whining about how we didn't do it. It's in your face. And it's clearly a crisis of two things: consciousness and conditioning. These are the two things that psychedelics attack. We have the technological power and the engineering skills to save our planet, to cure disease, and to feed the hungry. But we lack the intellectual vision, and the courage to change our minds. We must decondition ourselves from millennia of bad behavior, and it's not easy. I don't know how many of you have ever been addicted to something really serious, like tobacco or heroin. Imagine a global population addicted to a drug that is killing us. There's no doctor saying you should stop. There's no rehab facility you go to when your species is on an absolutely destructive bender. That will end with the death of the earth, the impoverishment of it's animal and plant populations, and the collapse of our civilization into scarcity. Unless, we can somehow restructure our psychology and get a hold of ourselves.
10:53 am – Everyone is incentivized to promote the fear of nuclear war. Russia is saber-rattling to the West. To their own people, they paint the west as nuclear aggressors. Ukraine to the West cries fear of nuclear war so we'll intervene at a humanitarian level. Biden signals 'nuclear armageddon' to justify military spending. The US media cries armageddon for clickbait capitalism. Then on social media, influencers will recite their fears to stay top of mind.
This is a textbook circle jerk. Everyone knows it's a media game, so that's a fair reason to tune it all out and get on with your life.
And yet, there are some alarming signs. Negotiation is being ridiculed. Backchannels have been cut. Other countries are piling in. We're escalating tit for tat. It's a game of nuclear chicken, inching closer and closer.
None of these conditions were true during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Isn't that strange? Electronic media was so new in 1962, that a single mention of nuclear war paralyzed society for two weeks. Now, we have 9,000 mentions of nuclear war, and we're so numb that nobody cares, but the situation is getting serious enough to warrant actual alarm.
The real information problem is preparedness around nuclear war. In forums, most people assume it will be instant obliteration, but 95% would survive even a full-blown nuclear war. The real challenge is living in a world without any of the infrastructure we've grown up with – food, water, sanitation, power, communication, first-aid. (Spoiler: at the end of the movie Threads, the survivors live medieval lives in work camps).
Of course, there's a funny tension in New York City's PSA video. "Get inside, stay inside, and wait for us!" So infantile. This is good advice for the first 4 hours. Truth is, you'll want to stay inside for a few weeks until radioactive fallout particles decay. If you actually want your citizens to be prepared, you're going to freak them out to the point of paralysis. I'm not saying they should release, "the comprehensive guide to survive in a nuclear wasteland." I'm saying "have 2 weeks of food and water stored" is more helpful short-term advice.
If Manhattan were nuked with a 1 megaton Minuteman, I'd survive the fallout situation for 2-3 weeks. After that, the state of the world is an open mystery. I've been wondering, 'how could I be self-reliant for 1,000 days?' I'm still at square one. I have no time to suddenly become an Internet Survivalist. Instead, I have this cartoon image in my head of using a Peloton-powered light to sustain a basement farm where I grow plants in my own shit.
8:51 am – Why are there no signs of aliens?
- The Fermi Paradox – we tend to destroy ourself
- For a species to survive, they have to shed imperialism – they're staying local
- The logistics of flesh in space (we're more likely to encounter their drones)
- Intelligence escapes space-time (see: DMT entities)
8:49 am – A post-mortem for the human race. Why have we failed? Cancerous egos, failing religions, and a lack of innovation around institutional power.
October 15th, 2022
10:15 pm - 'Scope Balloon' is the concept to understand WHY we need the shiny dime.
7:49 pm – I write to you with a head full of salt. I bought a mystery box of airline snacks to cull my hunger, and jenky, predatory Wi-Fi for $8.78 per hour to shape this newsletter intro. Joining me on my flight to Austin is a Creator Economy celebrity (lookalike?), a miniature Doberman in a cage, and hundreds of strangers dozing off to the pantheon of lame in-flight movies (in particular, I see Chris Pratt slaying a CGI dinosaur).
1:01 pm – ‘Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate…” JUNG
8:42 am – When I have some open long form essays, I find myself solving them in my head throughout the day. I’m solving the knots without realizing, and without seeing it. I don’t know if this is worthwhile or a distraction. Am I better served to wait, show up at the page and do it?
October 14th, 2022
- Meme idea: NYC nuclear PSA vs. Threads
- What was so great about architecture school?
- Prompts are flint, not rules.
October 12th, 2022
11:06 am – If the idea has clear parallel points, then sub-headers are a visual cue to help the reader jump from one idea to the next. Sub-headers are a tool to instantly share the structure of your thinking
Sub-headers definitely aren't a universal rule. I wrote something this morning that was a massive wall of text (no sub-headers, not even paragraph breaks). It was appropriate for the idea.
That said, I think it's great practice for writer's to use sub-headers as they write. You can delete them after if you think they detract. As I'm free-writing a first draft, I often go as granular as titling every paragraph (I do this only after the paragraph has been written, and I delete them once the piece feels coherent). There are two benefits of this:
1) You practice your compression muscle. You put in the reps of looking at 150 word blocks and asking 'what is the essence of this?'
2) You have a clear understanding of the distinct 'blocks' within your essay. When you have a first draft without sub-headers, it's hard to know the seams between ideas on the page. It becomes hard to re-wire. But with sub-headers per paragraph, the essay can be quickly understood as a series of blocks that can be easily shifted.
I think lengths make a difference too. 200 word atomic essays don't need them. 1,500 word essays could probably benefit from them. For novels, the visual division of ideas happens at the chapter level, whether they're named or numbered.
Whether you use sub-headers or not, ideas have a natural hierarchy and structure. It's up to the writer to decide if they want to use visual cues to help the reader explicitly get that structure. Are you trying to clearly install 3 ideas, or are you trying to suspend them in a mood?
Vary paragraph lengths.
Vary sentence lengths.
Vary sentence types.
Vary syllable counts.
October 11th, 2022
12:56 pm – There are different frontiers to personal writing, and the one ahead of me is shamelessly writing about my unconfessed feelings about other people. When someone else is at play, it feels strange writing about them without their permission.
11:42 am – After you implement feedback, it’s helpful to make a list of the patterns you noticed. It’s useful to reference this one-sheet before you start your next essay.
October 10th, 2022
How do writers practice?
- Logs – jot down your epiphanies in prose
- Impressions – analyze your heroes and learn to use their voice
- Streams – write for 20 minutes without using the backspace
- Vocabulary – use spaced repetition apps to learn new words
- Rewrites – re-write the same atomic essays 7 times
- Feedback – share early drafts to map resonance
- Visual analysis – draw on your essays to find patterns
- Compression – add a title for every paragraph
11:29 am – A social media like is lossy and mysterious. It could mean anything. A fleeting 'cool,' or a supportive 'keep going!', or a yearning 'take my business card,' or a genuine 'I'm so impressed by your work,' or a strategic "I'm watching you.' It often comes down to 'I have no time to articulate what I'm thinking, so this will do for now.' It's a metric for a non-specific pulse.
October 9th, 2022
11:59pm – Writing requires the endurance of suffering. At all stages of the journey, there are moments you look at what's on the page and feel an existential disappointment.
5:38 pm – I wonder how much of an effect 'hand-eye coordination' has on writers. I've only ever considered it with sports, hunting, and video games. Writing is a finger-centric sport. There is a certain agility between the formation of language and the tips of your fingers. A focus is required to stay in the pocket. This whole metaphor was lucid to me while I was playing racquetball. Now it's fuzzy.
2:14 pm – Premise: A time-traveling typewriter. Anything you type into it gets sent back in time to the original owner.
FACT-CHECKING vs. LANDSCAPE AWARENESS
2:13 pm – It's difficult to make sense of what's going on in the world. We have a very 'source-centric' model. I can follow CNN, or YouTubers, or QAnon, or the Chinese media, and they interpret events for me. In reality, confined atomic events blossom into a mosaic of competing narratives and interpretations. But these viewpoints are scattered, and sources have their own slant. There's friction in seeking alternate interpretations. Our problem is that there are no financial incentives for information clarity. It all boils down to emotionally feeding tribes what they need. There are a select few who want to properly understand the topography of an idea and how it's unfolding in our culture. The medium of the news doesn't promote or enable critical thinking, rationality, coherence, or sense making. It's one of our culture's biggest problems. We're cracking at the seams because of it, and it's borderline fatal if we don't solve it. A false solution to this problem is 'fact checking.' This isn't about true or false. There's a certain convenience in reducing complex events down to a simple nugget you can consume in 2 minutes. Fact-checking is just one feature within a larger toolset that we need. In a culture where everyone is devolving into their own echo-chamber, I want a tool that aggregates all the silos around singular atomic events. Let's imagine this. Boom. Putin makes a controversial speech. I want a web scraper pointed at all the high traffic news sources that gathers, clumps, sorts, and ranks information, all in one place. Even the comments within a Reddit thread need parsing and coagulation. Of course, this is a massive technical and social challenge, that would require some system of human curators, editors, and AI, with all the right incentives in place. But I want the tremendous volume of parrot noise to be clustered into small definable chunks that I can understand. I want to instantly understand the range of interpretations around an event. I want that bird's eye view. I want to view the cracks in the windshield, not the veracity of the stone.
October 8th, 2022
12:55 pm – "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Language, syntax, and ideas, pre-date the human.
October 7th, 2022
11:29 am – Auto-correct is the editor you never asked for.
9:15 am – The brain can construct totally fabricated environments during dreaming. The brain can also re-create existing environments with near perfect precision. This might explain OBEs, (out of body experiences), or the 'astral projection' phenomenon. It's when someone claims they can exist and perceive outside of their body. From a first person point of view, it's perceptually true. But it's most likely that the whole thing is just an eerily convincing simulation. If true, it speaks to the persistence of spatial memory, or, some daredevil like supra-sensory mapping of space.
8:14 am – FAQ: Why are you a pseudonym? I tried writing without one, and my writing was black and white. Knowing my co-workers and family could Google my name, I made sure not to include anything that could burst their mental picture of me. The words were middle-school-dance-nervous. Embarrassingly intellectual. A new writer's past-life identity is baggage. It’s a slug-suit schlepped around for 20 or 50 years, molded by other people. Ironically, your real name is less you than the first name you pick for yourself. The mask of a pseudonym lets your subconscious spill onto the page, with no one else’s judgment but your own.
7:56 am – “Elmore Leonard wrote of exclamation marks: “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” Which means, on average, an exclamation mark every book and a half. In the ninth book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Eric, one of the characters insists that “Multiple exclamation marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind.” In Maskerade, the 18th in the series, another character remarks: “And all those exclamation marks, you notice? Five? A sure sign of someone who wears his underpants on his head.”
October 6th, 2022
8:41 pm – It’s often thought that distribution boils down to tactics x consistency, but quality is the greatest multiplier. Go deep on your pieces through editing. Find five trusted friends to help you get oriented. You don’t need instant scale. You need velocity: force and direction.
8:34 pm – Self-editing tip: Pick your least favorite paragraph and re-write it from scratch.
6:19 pm – I have no capacity for songwriting in this phase of my life. I’ve tried to squeeze it in, but I’ve accepted that it requires the fullness of my creative attention (I’d have to take a break from writing). That said, I’m motivated to pursue the technical mastery of things in a way I haven’t before. By dropping musical composition, I can focus on the technics of guitar, the polyrhythm of drums, the study of song-form, and the imagery of lyrics. Let me focus on all this in isolation throughout this phase. I’ll write songs in the next one.
3:55 pm – A language library is a more than a collection of quotes. Beyond the ideas, it’s the syntax to marvel at. How do they carve thought into words? What have they invented from the primitive tools of letters and punctuation? You can also have a ‘negative library,’ a list of banished cliche constructions.
3:27 pm – Playfulness isn’t silly, it’s alive.
12:41 pm – 'Dean’s List strives to be a mental riot in your inbox. It’s an untethered newsletter about weird ideas, wonky systems, and reflections on the creative process. It seeks both to entertain and to rewire your synapses.' I always cringe when trying to refine my newsletter. I'll get it one day. Or maybe, someone else has to write it for me.
12:17 pm – I feel the tension between 1) an unbound creative unfolding, and 2) leading and teaching a community as an editor. Maybe there’s an unquestioned assumption that leaders need to have everything figured out and systematized, with the answers ready to go. But there are no absolute answers or absolute experts. AND (big and), if we’re encouraging new students to take risks and explore, then it would false of leaders to not do the same. Risk-taking isn’t something you ever grow out of. If you’re not nervous each time you publish, even after 2-5 years, it means your existing safely within the boundaries you've once pushed into. Never stop experimenting.
12:04 pm – You can’t analyze your way to a Personal Monopoly. It’s social and emergent. In the early stages, strategy scrambles your intuition.
9:45 am – It seems like people dig writing in the list format, even outside the context of Twitter threads. It’s funny how ‘listicle’ trash comes to mind, yet, you could have sophisticated writing in that format. Just because lists make information easy to consume, doesn’t mean the writing needs to be junk food.
October 5th, 2022
12 FAVORITE PROBLEMS
11:57 pm – Here's a list of open-ended questions that get my mind churning. I re-write these twice a year. This time, it's a list that addresses society-scale problems. Any one of these questions can fracture into a dozen smaller questions, and any one of those could take a single person their whole life to address. The beauty of writing is that it opens a space of permissionless thought. You can explore and share the nuances of questions that exist outside the practical reach of your life. Yet, by writing in public, the Internet has a weird way of bringing these problems closer to you.
- How do we revive religion?
- How can technology enable new forms of democracy?
- How should we teach creativity, psychology, and philosophy to children?
- How do we enable 10x warp-speed mastery of craft?
- How do we fix social media & revive the original vision of the Internet?
- How can artists thrive when algorithms dictate delivery & positioning?
- What are the most important lessons we’ve forgotten from ancient times?
- How do we re-design the information economy?
- How can we design systems that compound value instead of overhead?
- How can virtual reality empower instead of enslave us?
- How can architecture steer culture and behavior?
- How should the knowledge of death affect our relationships?
I'll be exploring the answers to these in the next 6 months. If you known anyone wrestling with similar ideas, invite them over here.
12:02 pm – There’s a time and place for company acronyms. The worst is when they’re out of context and read like corporate-glyph-salad. But they’re still a useful tool in certain places. If you spell out the phrase in the title of a doc, and then add [XXX] after it, you’re good. You’ve defined it. You’ve made the pair and set the anchor. Go crazy with WTBD or QOs. In fact, if you don’t compress these phrases, and instead spell them out every time, I think it adds friction and bloat to consuming the bigger ideas in your memo. Acronyms are tools of compression that we should embody. The confusion only happens when they stick and leak beyond a context where they’re properly defined.
9:25 am – Musical taste is a barometer for openness. To like a song, you have to put yourself in a position where you’re open to like it. It’s natural to identify with preferences around quality, genre, lyrics, and length. New music is tested against past judgements. But a wide taste signals that you’ve been open to drop your signals and incorporate something new.
October 3rd, 2022
6:00 pm – ‘OMG, it’s 2022, are we seriously talking about nuclear war?’ Yes. It was an illusion to think we were ever above it. The armistice of de-nuclearization wasn’t some hippy declaration to rid the world of destructive weapons, these things are expensive to maintain. Ever since we invented atomic weapons, we’ve entered into a contract to play Russian roulette once-a-generation. The odds are typically 1 in 6.
5:56 pm – Putin’s play is that he has nothing to lose and the West has everything to lose. If Putin uses a nuke on cities or civilians, it will force NATO to enter, despite them not wanting to. There aren’t many options to use a nuke tactically and not get obliterated. Instead, Putins next card is to pair a display of tactical nukes, with threats, and specific tactical demands. He’s likely going to set the path to de-escalation, not us. If tactical Nuke fireworks are set over Ukraine (without fallout), or if he sends something into the ocean, it will be ambiguous enough to not warrant a reaction from NATO. Yet, it will trigger worldwide panic and the frantic evacuation of cities, and we’ll be more likely to concede.
4:05 pm – The best racquetball player in the world gets paid as much as the 160th best tennis player. They make 25x less than the top tennis player. Industries are power laws. You don’t want to join an industry with needless friction. This is feels like how the architecture industry clamps designers.
WHEN THE PIZZA PLACE KNOWS YOUR NAME
3:34 pm – Some people strive to get on a first-name basis with their local restaurants. It’s never been a goal of mine, but it happened at the pizzeria, and my wife is jealous. She’s been coming here her whole life and is invisible to them, but whenever I walk in they go, “Mike! Buffalo Chicken?” It’s merely a feature of me ordering the exact same thing every time. There’s a funny lesson in here for writers (one that makes me slightly uncomfortable). Thematic consistency gets remembered.
3pm – The scale of click-bait doom reporting is a riot. It's a weird paradox, where 1) the situation is way worse than anyone thinks, and 2) the media is making it seem even worse than that. The news is obviously bloated, and that causes a dismissal of the whole situation, which is equally dangerous.
The reporting on Poseidon is hilarious, borderline satire. Russia is testing a nuclear submarine, but it won't be in commission until 2027. It's undergoing routine testing, but the media is blending it in with the threats of tactical nukes to escalate paranoia.
"Cowabunga! Are you ready for a night swim? It's 10 pm, and Putin just parked his nuclear submarine in the East River. Poseidon, also known as the "Mother of Armageddon," also known as the evil, Russian, bitch-of-a-step sister to Mother Earth, is ready to burst, ready to launch an underwater nuclear torpedo that spawns a 1,600 foot nuclear tsunami. It's the Mermaid of Death! The City Fucker! Get out your bunker and find a spire to climb. This water-themed apocalypse threat is a new flavor of blackmail, a new kind of offense that renders NATOs defense of wookie-operated space lasers obsolete. Not only that, the Soviet R&D project, "Timesplitter" has come to fruition. Hitler and Genghis Kahn have broken through space-time to join Putin and push the button together. As the coasts flood, Putin will release a flock of velociraptors through Alaska to catch everyone else in the Great Plains."
October 2nd, 2022
4:11 pm – Bunker Bill: If you can lodge yourself in that 'end of civilization' vibe, without getting bummed out, it's a new form of religious existence – one around accepting death, making love, and speaking through the hyenas of truth.
11:31 am – Bunker Bill could easily become a viral YouTuber. He could rig the 10x10 room in the basement with high-quality streaming cameras. One on the typewriter, and another on the character, Bill, either in a gas mask or horse head. High quality ASMR audio too. The gimmick will be a daily hand-typed page on YouTube, live-streamed. A household meme for the 2020s. A new breed of paranoid-artistic celebrity. I wonder if Bill's gimmick is just a slimy money-grab for advertising revenue that doesn't matter, or, if it's actually a vessel to spread important ideas. Who knows. Not going to happen.
11:29 am – Bunker Bill: Forum chatter shows me that many people think there's no gradient between peaceful-life-on-Earth and full-blown-nuclear-apocalypse. "What can I do! I'll just grab a bong and hope it's quick!" There are shades of atomic-aftermath. Chances are, you won't get caught in the white-light. Chances are, you'll find yourself woefully unprepared in a radically different life.
10:55 am – Last night a bought a typewriter off of Etsy– an Olympia SM-2 from 1956. Not sure if it's from Germany or Italy.
10:09 am – At a certain point, you have to accept that a fair number of people might have the completely wrong impression of you. No piece of writing is a full representation of you. Each essay is a shard of a mosaic. Individual pieces might be professional, angry, artistic, absurd, idealistic, paranoid or anything. The number of people who care to put together the whole puzzle is low. Strategic creators aim to reduce this brand confusion through consistent positioning. This is wise and proven, but it potentially betrays the self. What if the ambiguity and mystery behind a creator isn't a bug, but a feature? How could someone position (and sell) "the full human?"
SUSPENDED IN DREAM FLUID
6:28 am – I just had one of my strangest experiences ever. It was an odyssey of consciousness. A dream of a nature I've never known. My body frozen in sleep paralysis, my mind suspended in dream fluid, I was a first-person vantage point twisting in and around 30 different vignettes.
I started getting sleep paralysis when I was 18 or so. It's the experience of your mind being awake as your body shuts down. I have no science on how to induce this, but I will note that it came after two 'psychedelic' IPAs (heavy, craft beer), a full order of boneless buffalo wings at 11:00pm, and two hours of reading Pessoa when everyone else is asleep. Somehow those three things together trigger a full-on mystical assault.
When my body slips into paralysis, I hear loud, noisy, radio static in my ears. It's usually scary enough for me to snap out of it. I typically fight off 10-20 of these tugs, shift to my side, and avoid it. I'm trained to suppress this. But this time, I said, 'why not let it happen?' All it took was this lapse, this simple act of permission, to get mind bent. From that moment, it was like a dam broke for the next half-hour.
When you wake up from dreams, you usually experience a sharp and immediate cut back to your body. It's a clean transition. Not this time.
This time, I would feel my consciousness escape, twist, and rotate out of one dream, into another, or back into my bed-brain (where I was still frozen). I feel like I was slicing in and out of dimensions, with impressive spatial blending. Going from dream to dream was like going through a phase change. My mind would dissolve into gas, jaggedly shoot through some psychic highway, and then re-shape into a mind in some another dream. It was horrible and awe-striking. A new transport vessel.
I was impressed by the succession of scenes, more than the content of each one, some of which were 5 seconds, and others 60. Some do stand out though. At one point I came across a ghost that was flickering my kitchen light. At another point, I was lodged inside of my real-life bed, yelling to my wife, "Help! I'm tripping!" in an ambiguous tone I can only describe as SOS-playful. There were countless false awakenings, and frequent 'gotchyas' (I'd think I was awake, back in real life, only to get sucked out of my head again). Each scene was realistic and convincing, which made it even more jarring when it happened. Sometimes I'd clutch onto furniture to try to prevent it, but it never worked.
At points through the experience, when I was back in my bed-brain, I had the urge to grab my phone at write out what was happening while I could still remember it. But my body was frozen, and I'd get automatically launched back in. Eventually, I broke out, and wrote down (a more scattered version) of this log.
4:56 am – Writing turns awareness into an art, more so than other mediums. Music is based on melody. Painting is based on the mind’s eye. Writing is the ‘consciousness of consciousness.'
4:51 am – The words of Pessoa suck the air out of the room. Everything else floods in: the Rattlesnake leaves, the humming of highway, the wind that knocks and saws on my house, the clock taunts. A cacophony in the morning hours while TVs are off and everyone sleeps.
4:37 am – Life is the constant shedding of one phase into the next. It’s fleeting and it evaporates. Writing presses each phase into amber. Without writing, you live in one phase, with your past a mystery. But through writing, you can exist in all phases at once. You get a birds eye view of your whole life while also being in it. Split-perspectives. Multi-directional vectors of insight. Either wisdom or a short-circuit.
4:22 am – The changing of seasons create threads through your memories. I can flip back through 16 years of mental fragments, held by no one else but me. They're glowing and strange, but not nostalgic. I'm struck by how significant events are now distant shard. I'm aware of the nature of experience. It's sharp in the moment, it passes with the next one, and then it compresses before it evaporates. Automatically lumped highlights melt back into the void. To combat this thought, I look at my fingernails closely under bright lamplight. I see the wrinkles and the microscopic twitches of finger. They're now as significant as other eroding moments – my middle school girlfriend, my high school graduation, and my first desk job. Better yet, now that my finger nail is etched into a sentence, it's more significant than those other events combined. This is what writing does. It preserves the richness of your experience through seasons of high fidelity. It freezes consciousness in amber, and saves it from the compression of flimsy mind. My whole life before writing is forgotten. Basically a mystery. I can only guess.
October 1st, 2022
6:08 pm – Given all the Lord of the Rings cross-platform advertising from Amazon, you'd think you could turn Alexa's voice into Schmiegel.
11:00 am – When everything is presented as breaking news, the serious events worth grabbing your attention fall below the noise threshold. It’s the boy who cried wolf. If every day is a crisis, the real crisis goes unnamed. When some rogue leader makes 35 fake threats, we become numb to the actions that would’ve shivered a clean slate.
8:55 am – I read Pessoa when I woke up, and completely forgot about the news. Suddenly, like a bite on fishing line, I wondered, “what’s happened in the last 9 hours in the theatre of nuclear doom?” My brain sent the signals to rush to Google and type ‘russia,’ but since it’s a Saturday morning, my body didn’t respond. Instead I stood there, looking at trees behind glass, feeling head tingles, as my dreaded synapses connect to make sense of where the world is at on this first morning of October.
8:45 am – In my last log, which took shape automatically, I used the words ‘you’ and ‘your’ a lot. I didn’t intend this directionality at ‘you’ the reader. I wasn’t thinking of anyone vague or specific. The antics of copywriters escape me. So then it hit me: analysis is a form of split-brain thinking. I speak to myself from 10 seconds ago through ‘you’s’ and ‘yours’ as if I’m hovering outside it. It’s a different person. Writing is a laxative that sheds identity. Instantly, you fork your ego, dump your skin, and see your past self as someone you’re qualified to lecture. It’s instant wisdom groping, true or false.
8:39 am – There’a a hazy weekday busyness that reduces info-capture to leaving breadcrumbs. In the throes of a Zoom call, or at dinner with my wife, or while waiting at a red light, a fragile idea emerges, and I have a split second to make note of it. I can’t render it in full prose. I have to use a chicken-scratch hieroglyphs to somehow reboot the full nature of a fleeting thought (while battling auto-correct). The more you do it, the better your breadcrumbs. But this calcifies your discipline of recording ideas, and you default to chicken scratch instead of the thought itself. Now, on a muggy, white-blue Saturday morning, with nothing to do, a thought comes to mind, and your trained to think, “let me jot this down in 4 seconds so I can get on with doing nothing.” No! That should be the moment where you give up the steering wheel, hold on, and let the idea take you where it will.
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