Category Archives: Uncategorized

Old trails

/drops self out of gear, lets self roll...

Sometimes, when I'm looking for houses to buy on Redfin, I get caught up following the old railroad paths that aren't there anymore. They're obvious if you know what to look for. In Redfin they're more obvious because there exist in some places a long continuous gap in the property lines. In the satellite view you can see long curving paths that are matched along their curve by parking lots, unusually shaped property lines, and, if you drive through the area, a clear fit along a graded path.

I see these patterns whether I look for them or not.

The gully across the street in St. David was an old railroad spur (or was it a continuous line?) down to the mines from the main line along IL-100. In our backyard in Lewistown was an old line that would have come out of the mines in the direction of Depler Springs into Lewistown, not long past an old junction that would have crossed Main Street going east, its scar visible beyond the outfield of Higgins Field—the outfield of Higgins Field itself bearing the scar of the old track before it was moved a bit north and west.

In St. David there was that weird sidewalk through the woods that connected Fulton Avenue to Central Avenue that only makes sense, I suppose, in the context of the mines that you can't see. Same, I suppose, with the trails—Fred's Woods, Dave's Woods—where we rode our bikes.

And along US-24, on the north side, are the remains, if you look the right way, of either the predecessor of US-24 or a parallel rail line.

I'm not planning to bring this post towards a point. It'll roll to a stop when it gets there. Not going to give you any maps either. Find the long loping curves and the displaced grades yourself if the spirit moves you.

When I lived in Newman, in Douglas County, driving north through Broadlands to get back to campus, you could see the remains of a line that would have gone from Villa Grove to Westville.

Old Train Bridge on the Little Vermilion River, Sidell, Illinois

At the Spoon River crossing by IL-116 west of London Mills, on the west side of the current highway are the remains of the old highway bridge over the river. And on the east side there were pylons of an older bridge. I assumed it was also a road bridge. Once in Google Earth I pulled up historical imagery and it was a railroad bridge, the railroad feeding out of the old mines through London Mills and up into flat country.

I can't believe you're still here.

Go upriver of that crossing, past the junction where the Spoon meets the Cedar Creek, until it crosses under Fulton County Road 20—Indian Ford Bridge, formerly one of the old metal highway bridges of Fulton County.

Cedar Creek is the southern boundary of Ingersoll Scout Reservation, where I spent several years camping and several years working. ISR was patched together from old farms and if you knew where to look—and it wasn't really looking so much as walking through the woods and the stinging nettles feeling for clues—you could find the remains of old barns, old buildings, old electrical boxes where a house might have stood on the old County Line Road that had been submerged by the manmade Lake Roberts in the 1970s. If you could feel the old overgrown fields, you could find the old barbed wire that had been taken off the old fenceposts and rolled up where an old tree also used as a fencepost had consumed it.

Old trails. They're not even history because history is written down. Old trails are an enigma, living forever until found by strange wanderers or destroyed forever as they're subsumed by development. In the final accounting it probably doesn't matter which.

Earlier this week I learned about the Old Indian Trail from Cadillac to Traverse, Michigan. And I also found this article in The Guardian about how the shape of Chicago and its surrounding areas are built to the shape of old native trails: Native American routes: the ancient trails hidden in Chicago’s grid system.

And that played on something in my mind that I've meant to look up for a long time: in my internal movie of Lewis and Clark traveling from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, I have an image of people traveling in canoes up and down rivers, and hacking through temperate jungles, passing through unseen land, occasionally popping into a clearing where there were strange people just hanging out around a campfire, and then moving on through the jungle. I don't think that's how it went, but that's the baseline mental image. Obviously they would have followed trails instead of bushwhacking. No one would get all the way to Oregon just by stumbling through the undergrowth. What trails did they follow? What old trails are still there?

Ideas are cheap, execution is dear

I was listening to an episode of Side Hustle School today, and there was a segment near the end that reminded me of one of my favorite segments of Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview. I'll show the transcripts here, but the idea is, in short: ideas are cheap, execution is dear.

#744 - It's No Joke: Prank Musical Greeting Card Earns $36,000/Month, Side Hustle School (2019-01-14).

[09:50] Also, even though it was originally a pretty silly idea, the way he's been able to create longterm business value from it is through the execution of the idea. So it's not easy to build those relationships with vendors and make decisions about how many tens of thousands of cards to order. And then when disaster strikes, like that crazy experience with the battery's being duds, it's not a simple thing at all to figure out how to respond and recover. So that to me is where the value is, that is just as interesting as coming up with the initial idea. So if you hear this story and you think, "Oh, well, that's pretty cool but, you know, the whole trick was in the idea", I think the whole trick is in the execution of the idea.

Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview, Magnolia Pictures (2012)

[35:05] One of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left, John Sculley got a very serious disease, and that disease—I've seen other people get it, too—it's the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work, and that if you just tell all these other people, "Here is this great idea", then, of course, they can go off and make it happen. And the problem with that is that there is just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it, and you also find there is tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make. There are just certain things you can't make electrons do. There are certain things you can't make plastic do or glass do or factories do or robots do. And as you get into all these things, designing a product is keeping 5,000 things in your brain, these concepts, and fitting them all together and continuing to push to fit them together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new, that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently. And it's that process that is the magic.

Surely I'm not the only one who recognizes myself in that description, of thinking that once I have a fantastic idea that it's all downhill from there. I do it all the time—well, maybe not all the time because I don't have great ideas that often, but I feel like a great idea is much more often followed by the great disappointment of underexecution than I want to believe.

Consider three paths forward from a great idea.

  1. The happy ending, where the idea comes to fruition.
  2. The technical failure, described in that passage from Steve Jobs, where an idea is considered to be the large part of the work, and the technical work to figure out the details to manifest the idea is given short shrift.
  3. The persuasion failure, where one assumes very wrongly that the idea itself is enough to convince stakeholders to help.

The technical failure is often arrogance or cluelessness about what it means to create something. If one arrogantly assumes that it won't be that hard, and puts off the work, then there is no way to regain the missed time that should have been spent working out the subtle details that are only found by doing. Experience is not the only thing, but there is no substitute for it.

The persuasion failure is laziness. This is the one that gets me the most. It's hard to avoid the trap of thinking that an idea that is beautiful in my own mind is itself enough to convince other people of the idea's beauty, and that they should invest or buy or assist or whatever in the idea. That's obviously wrong, but there's typically another wrong thought that comes along after that one: frustration that the others don't recognize the special unique specialness of the idea. I call it laziness because when I think that the idea is enough to sell itself, that means that I'm not putting in the work to persuade the others that it's a good idea that's relevant to them, that's something they should help with, that it's going to be worth the trouble, and so on.

Postscript: It seems I'm not the first to say "ideas are cheap, execution is dear".

Horse-race political journalism is not awesome

Jack Schafer, Why Horse-Race Political Journalism Is Awesome, Politico (2019-01-09)

Covering the status of poll results has a useful place in the process of electing people to office. It's a glimpse outside of the relatively small region of what an individual can see and hear and know. I find it easy to convince myself that my experience must be similar, if not the same, to most others. Especially for national offices, the polls are a quick reminder that at least 40% of the people out think differently.

But it's just a glimpse. It's not awesome. It's not the story, outside of weird and unexpected changes. It should be at most a sidebar to something more substantive about the people represented by the polls, whether the candidate or the voters.

At the end of the 2008 campaign, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell sorted Post political coverage over the previous year and found 1,295 horse-race stories compared with 594 stories about the issues. This ratio seems defensible, seeing as the who’s up/who’s down of the horse race can change daily. Issue stories don’t need that sort of constant revisiting, especially if they’re done well.

Honestly, polls don't need that kind of revisiting either. Not every change in a poll is significant, and not every individual poll needs its own article. That should all be a slow-moving collection of numbers, converging to mean something at key milestones. Day-to-day numbers are useful for selling advertisements, not for deriving meaning. On the other side, a candidate's stance on an issue might not need constant revisiting, but that issue is connected to other issues, people, etc., and those network effects deserve the attention.

To say nothing of considering a 1295:594 poll-to-issue ratio defensible...

It’s not antidemocratic for journalists to measure support by checking polls, campaign donations, audience size and endorsements. In fact, such signaling makes democracy possible.

I don't think that the horse-race stories are antidemocratic. That seems a bit of a strawman. The issue is that it's out-of-balance with what would be useful in terms of electing candidates to office.

By giving voters a window on the closed world of insider politics, horse-race stories help focus reader attention on the races. Without the work of election handicappers, coverage would come to resemble an endless series of policy white papers that nobody reads.

I can't understand this comment except as maybe a second- or third-order effect of horse-race politics stories. Poll numbers are representative of what outsiders think, not insiders. And horse-race stories don't help focus readers on the races, but on the poll numbers. I agree that white papers are boring, and nobody outside of specialists and unusually interested people should be expected to read them, but there is plenty of room for connecting the dry information in a white paper to the effects it will have on the messy real world and the people that live in it.

Cover the horse races on the weekend. Then for their sake and ours, let them rest.

Chinese study 2019, part 2

Previous story: Chinese study 2019

In the previous post, I only got as far as trying to identify where to spend effort to learn Chinese. But there was no plan about what to do. Here's what I'm thinking about that.

The two things that need to go way up in effort: speaking and composing.

The two things that need to give way: listening and reading.

There's another way to put that. The thing that needs to give way: practicing by myself. The thing that needs to be increased: practicing with others.

Here's an idea I had: Zhongwensday. It's a sketchy portmanteau of 中文zhōngwén ("Chinese language") and Wednesday. Every Wednesday, I would take the results of speaking and composition—presumably a video and an article, which could be different versions of the same topic, both in Chinese—and present them for your consideration. It's simple, it lends itself to refinement, and the quality of the output can be compared over time. One more thing: other people can do the same thing, and we can all share with each other and compare.


I know it's a good idea, but I'm not entirely sold on taking such a big drink of embarrassment... but what the hell? The base goal is not "Avoid embarrassment" but "Speak fluent Chinese".

One other thing: I run a daily service called Chinese Word of the Day. (Better on Twitter and Facebook, @zhwotd and @zhwotd, respectively.) For the most part, it's just been words words words, but no examples, no digging into the characters, etc.—no context, just words. Words are easy. Turning the words into thoughts and ideas is hard—but not impossible. That's the next step on

So we'll start 2019 with those two as the focus: (1) Zhongwensday and (2) context on Because, again: learning how to learn a language is hard. These two things are wonderfully discrete and easy to measure, but will require some work to develop and some practice to pull them off. Hi ho.

Chinese study 2019

Next story: Chinese study 2019, part 2

Learning how to learn a language is hard.

I've been trying to learn to speak Chinese now for about six years with, I think, little to show for it. I can't watch TV and understand an episode. I can't listen to people talk and understand it. More importantly, I can't listen to people talk to me and respond to them, unless it's childishly simple—and even then, there's a limit, and it doesn't take long to reach it.

So there's that. And there's the people I know who speak English as a second language with great results, nothing to give them away but an accent, proving empirically that that it's possible to jump the wall from one language to another—the same wall that I'm beating my head against. I don't have the answer on how to do it right, but I suppose I can just live the process out loud, here, and hope that the exposure causes some some sense of obligation to do it right.

What are some different aspects of learning a language? Speaking. Listening. Reading. Composing. Handwriting. The last two could be the same, but in Chinese, composing something by keyboard is wildly different than composing it by hand. (Never mind aspects like semantics, syntax, vocabulary, etc. I guess I'm really talking about modes.)

Speaking and hearing are the most important pair if you want to communicate with someone else in person. Composing is important if you want to communicate via email, WeChat, website, etc. Reading is useful, but mostly for yourself, alone. Handwriting is fun, but it can be thrown out without consequence, although I enjoy doing it because it looks like magic.

So that's the rough ranking in terms of importance: hearing, speaking, composing, reading, handwriting. Now: what to do about it?

Here's what I'm doing now.

Listening. For pure listening practice, I listen to TV shows on YouTube. It's a good drill, but it's limited.

Speaking. I do this almost never, and never in any sustained way, just a few simple things here and there at home. We'll come back to this.

Composing. Never. I really don't write or say anything new.

Reading. Yes. I do this the most out of all of the different modes. It's (relatively) easy to do because I can pick the speed, and I can stop to look things up when I don't know them. Every week I pick an article and pull out some new vocabulary as a way of discovering words for Chinese Word of the Day.

Handwriting. A little, actually, as part of listening practice.

How should the levels be adjusted? Let's arrange things in terms of effort:

Mode Current effort Should-be effort
Speaking 10% 25%
Listening 60% 30%
Reading 25% 15%
Composing 0% 25%
Handwriting 5% 5%

Get your resolution on

New Year's Resolutions are easy to pick on. And I do like to pick on things. And I don't participate in the fad myself—not overtly, at least. But I'll leave people and their resolutions alone. What's wrong with believing, even if just for the first two weeks of the year, that you can improve something about yourself. Right? Go for it. Get your resolution on.

I don't know what the smug set's issues with resolutions are, but I'll tell you the two main reasons I don't have my own resolutions.

First, I think it front-loads too much of the enthusiasm. I picture a cartoon version of a resolution like "I'm going to run a marathon" starting with a bang, a few consecutive days of running, followed by a few days of patchy running, followed by guilt, followed by forgetting the resolution. Sustaining that initial bang is hard—better instead to plan for the long road ahead, where "I'm going to run a marathon" is followed by figuring out realistically how much of a week and when you can dedicate to running, and then intentionally starting a little low and ramping up into it once you've laid in the habit. Scott Adams talks about systems instead of goals, but I think it takes both: systems in support of goals, or goals as a reason for developing systems.

The second problem I have with resolutions is that they are just begging to be another buffet problem. Why fix just one thing when you can fix several things at once while you're at it? Again: it starts heavy, and falls off. Again: better to start intentionally low (or few) and ramp up into it.

Instead of resolutions at the beginning, I keep a running set of curricula that I'm working on. The hardest part is keeping the set small. In my case I feel like I have to resolve to do less, not more or better. I tune the curricula every month, but the new year is a great time for throwing things out. And in addition to the curricula I keep some smaller habits in Way of Life.

So, at the outset of 2019, it looks like this:


  1. Chinese language: this is the one that will benefit the most from reducing in other areas. And it will probably benefit from focus and reduction itself. I'm still working on adjusting the contents of this one. Six years of studying and I still don't know how to speak the language well.
  2. Physical: Illinois Marathon in April
  3. Home: mostly learning to cook better, but also buying a house this year
  4. Communication: publish every day (hello)
  5. Projects: smaller things--some with other people (INCOSE), some with just myself (finish processing a half decade of photos)

The smaller daily habits in Way of Life have been constant for a while:

  1. Planks
  2. 10 ideas
  3. House search
  4. Writing
  5. Inbox zero
  6. Journal
  7. Plan tomorrow

2018 in review

Tick tock tick tock tick tock...

In This House We Have Moët & Chandon, so let's not think too hard about 2018—and definitely let's not talk about 2019—let's make some lists. If you'd like me to pick a list on a different topic, make your suggestion in the comments.

Best writing

My first job after college was a great setup. Of course ten years ago I gave that great setup the raspberry and moved to Texas for a girl. Moral of the story: don't break your coffee cup.

  • Break It Yourself (2018-03-28). And that interstitial period was strange. I can't fully account for it. I've thought before about examining it, considering it from different angles to see if there's any sense to be made, giving it the written treatment. It's like a pond that reflects the sky, giving no intimation of the world beneath until I dive into it. But I'd rather not. Swimming in fresh water gives me the creeps anyway. So I'll just toss it out here and leave it.

Runners up:

Best pictures

San José del Cabo bitter melon carousel pumpkin shuffleboard thinker on a rock lake louise johnson street bridge

Best reading (articles)

This article is literally about glitter. There is no subterfuge. Read it. It is hilarious and neurotic in a DFW kind of way.

  • Caity Weaver, What Is Glitter?, The New York Times (2018-12-21). So: what is glitter? A manipulation of humans’ inherent desire for fresh water. An intangible light effect made physical. Mostly plastic, and often from New Jersey. Disposable by design but, it turns out, not literally disposable. A way to make long winter nights slightly brighter, despite the offshore presence of Germans. An object in which the inside of a potato chip bag meets the aurora borealis.

Runners up:

Best listening

Listening to this interview with Tim O'Reilly is what convinced me to go read his latest book, WTF?: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us.

Runners up:


The whole list on Goodreads: read-in-2018

Favorite: Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo (1955)


All rise.

The funny thing about having a late December birthday is that it can conveniently hide behind other, larger events like Christmas and New Years Day. I guess it might be in the mix there with Hanukkah as well, but that wasn't on the menu where I grew up. December birthdays are the bass guitarist of birthdays; they're there, they're probably contributing somehow to the larger ensemble with the other birthdays, but they're hidden incredibly in plain sight. When you're young, this is a problem because the birthday gift + Christmas gift situation does not work out in your favor; when you're old, it's the same math, but the interpretation of it is more favorable.

I'm not going to do any proper year-in-review kind of post here. I have eleven days still to procrastinate on that front.

So why are we here?


There's no reason. I felt the urge, sometime this year, to begin using this space on my own website to write again. And I put some effort into taking the things I had written elsewhere, at least the ones I could remember how to find, and bring them back home. So is a reasonable avatar for Kirk Kittell, for good or ill.

Anyway. This is my party. And there is no agenda, no plan. We'll just place this here brick on this here accelerator and let the universe sort itself out.

When I think of birthdays, and how to write about them, I think of Kurt Vonnegut. ("Kurt is up in heaven now.") I think of Breakfast of Champions. This is, if you haven't read any Vonnegut, not the place to start reading. This is my second—no, third—favorite Vonnegut book, after Cat's Cradle and Mother Night. I probably don't like Mother Night better than Breakfast of Champions, but I think it might be his best or most important book, so it belongs in a prominent place.

Listen. Just leaving out the middle of the book, I could point at the beginning and the end and feel confident in myself that I've selected a Good Book. As it's birthday time, let's steal a few lines from the intro:

This book is my fiftieth birthday present to myself. I feel as though I am crossing the spine of a roof—having ascended one slope.


I think I am trying to clear my head of all the junk in there—the assholes, the flags, the underpants. Yes—there is a picture in this book of underpants. I’m throwing out characters from my other books, too. I’m not going to put on any more puppet shows.

I think I am trying to make my head as empty as it was when I was born onto this damaged planet fifty years ago.

I suspect that this is something most white Americans, and nonwhite Americans who imitate white Americans, should do. The things other people have put into my head, at any rate, do not fit together nicely, are often useless and ugly, are out of proportion with one another, are out of proportion with life as it really is outside my head.

That passage looks so pathetic out of context. But I've read this book several times, and the introduction—as is much of the book, especially the end—the product of someone who has dragged a rake along the soft parts of his life and gathered the debris into a pile to be carted away. I am sure that when I read this book 15 or 18 years ago that it seemed like a farce, but the older I get, the more I can recognize the catharsis of that unblinking assessment of one's own baggage.

But that all seems a bit maudlin. And that doesn't match with how I'm feeling anyway. But I can appreciate the feeling—of wanting to clear the junk from one's head, of wanting to find a bit of harmony inside and outside of my skull.

There's another thing though. There's this recording of Kurt Vonnegut reading a prototype version of Breakfast of Champions at the 92nd St Y in 1970 (below). It was unsettling to hear the first time. There's something about that Indianapolis accent that is similar to my dad's accent over in eastern Illinois, which isn't that far away from Indianapolis anyway, just a few miles off the Indiana-Illinois state line.

So: thirty-eight. It's not round, it's not square, it's not prime. Onward.

Personal website disagrees with replacing Facebook with personal websites

I'm writing from my personal website to disagree with the following: Jason Koebler, We Should Replace Facebook With Personal Websites, Motherboard (2018-12-19).

See also: What were people expecting out of Facebook? (2018-03-23)

First of all: hello, this is my personal website. There's really no need to convince me that it's a good thing to have. I am On Board, and I have been since 1997. I could come up with 10 reasons why I think it's a good idea without even trying very hard. (I am my own top search result, I get to understand albeit in a very basic way how things work on the internet, I get to sometimes talk to new people, etc.) I am the choir you're preaching to.

But that article is written from the inside—from the people who know and care about self-publishing on the web to the same kind of people. "We posted every day—photos from trips, friend and relationship drama, complaints about teachers, inside jokes. We were conditioned to post because only the weird kids did not post." Let's be clear: the weird kids posted. We posted.

On a visceral level I understand the hashtag delete Facebook outcry. I think history will show that it's a reasonable position to take. We vomited bits of ourselves online to each other, without thinking too hard about obvious issues like who would be able to see it—the "who" being not just consumers of Facebook but Facebook itself and the customers of Facebook data—and we had a good time doing it. And it is obvious. If you missed it, you missed something obvious. If you're posting something somewhere, that something is sitting in a database, waiting to be accessed—that's what data like that is for. And Facebook—whatever that means as a concept, Facebook, the brainchild of Mark Zuckerberg or a massive company filled with employees or a collection of users or an evil empire, choose your own epithet—is certainly an asshole for abusing your trust; see Gabriel J.X. Dance, As Facebook Raised a Privacy Wall, It Carved an Opening for Tech Giants, The New York Times (2018-12-18) for the latest episode of Masterjerk Theater.

Here's DHH beating a dead horse that he carries around with him in his backpack:

He's right. And I believe he's right. Yet I don't want to quit.

Reading the replies to that Twitter post, and reading the article at the top here, helps me understand the reason why. For those of us who know how to create things on the internet, whether we do it well or poorly, it is an easy decision to make. For the rest, it's not an option. You're probably not going to convince your parents to make their own website. Secretly this is a big reason this issue of running back to our personal websites rubs me the wrong way. One year for Christmas I did give them their own personal websites, nice URLs and all, and it didn't stick. It's not something they cared about. That's a reasonable response. Look around you and there are 1000 things that work, but they're things you don't care about how they work, or the conditions that brought them to their working state. Drywall. Shelf. Pen. Cat litter. Shirt. Plate. Etc. We rely on these things being produced without our understanding of how it happened.

It's an uncomfortable feeling standing up for Facebook. They don't deserve it. Let's end this.

There is a kind of opposition to Facebook that elicits its alternative solutions as something like: the people that I really care about, I can give them a call, or an email, or a handshake. Same here. Those are my Strong Contacts—people who I'm close to, people I know, people I trust. I really don't need Facebook for them. But the larger class of people I'm connected to on Facebook are Weak Contacts—people I met in college or high school but who weren't in my inner circle, people I met while traveling, friends of friends, etc. Life is richer for having given them a virtual high five, even if just once. Right? I'm not looking to know them or hang out with them, but there is something Good about having the connection, and occasionally manifesting it.

Something that pisses me off now is that Facebook, through its amazing execution, sucked the air out of the competition, and became a utility. All competition got beat, badly (unless you're measuring the competition on purely moral or ethical terms). We came there and—as the original article mentioned—abandoned our own half-assed web platforms to do so. It was the right thing to do at the time. Facebook the platform was amazing. It was easy. Everyone was there—it's not the sum of the individuals, it's the network effect that makes it magical. And when those of us who can inevitably do go off on our own, we will lose that. We might find—even create—something better, but probably not. Probably we all just shared a golden moment before returning back to where we were, but in different directions, never to coincide again.


I can't believe I didn't figure this out until now, but it just came to mind... the feeling that has been residing in my head while writing this is the crest of Hunter S. Thompson's own wave, from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (notes):

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda... You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning...

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave...

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

Serve the purpose, not the anchor

From YANSS 143 – How to Talk to People About Things, You Are Not So Smart (2018-12-17) (notes):

[18:12] Even though they were like, "Here, we have a solution to your problem", you're like, no, I'm already latched onto this other position. Even though that position doesn't fix my problem, but you get fixated on it, right? And I think we do that all the time. So one thing that happens there is I got fixated on a position and we lost track of our underlying interests. The other thing that we did was that we made the situation antagonistic in a way that was really costly because—and this something people do all the time too—you take a situation and you make it more and more antagonistic and lose track of the fact that that's not going to serve your purpose well.

Let's put the sidenote as the frontnote here: Many of the things that I intentionally listen to or read are targeted at fixing things in my sphere of influence—typically right at me, the very origin of that sphere.

That said, when I heard that passage above while driving down Lindbergh Boulevard, it was like a giant neon sign with the words HERE IS SOMETHING OBVIOUS YOU SHOULD KNOW BUT DON'T lit up in front of me. Both halves of that passage describe things that I do when I run into conflict situations: (1) abandon the Ultimate Purpose for the Thing I Latched Onto; and (2) get competitive to Win The Argument, thereby fouling the environment for actually getting What I Want.

The first one is interesting. It's called anchoring and to some degree, it's going to catch you even if you know it's there trying to catch you. Once that anchor point is set in your head (this house is worth $200,000; I'll finish this project on Thursday; etc.) it becomes the point against which you measure the rest of the information about that thing. Even if the new information proves your anchoring point wrong, your brain doesn't want to adjust.

The first one is annoying, but the second one is embarrassing: have you ever got caught up in a short term conflict—I am going to win this argument, I am going to prove I'm right, etc.—just to find the forest around you on fire, with no path to escape? Buddy, I live in that forest, and all my stuff smells like smoke. It's so obvious to see, now, when the amygdala doesn't feel provoked, but when it is... game on. Some of my role models at work are the ones that know which skirmishes to avoid blowing up into a full-out battle as a strategy to win the larger struggle. That's also one of the feelings I remember from reading Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom. So I suppose the point is not just avoiding unnecessary antagonism, but also having a larger purpose on the horizon to reach, to help from reacting to the flareups that occur on the way there.


The other person in this podcast episode is Misha Glouberman. He runs a regular lecture in Toronto called Trampoline Hall. The first part of the podcast is (I think) the stock introduction to every lecture, in which the purpose of everything about the lecture—why you're there, how to learn, what a question is and isn't, etc.—is explained. Not going to transcribe it now, but I'm definitely going to steal it later and modify it for use on everything. It's a little pedantic, but to be honest, I think we'd all be a bit better off if we took more time to think and explain the what and why of what we're about to do, even if it's only to remind ourselves.