posttitle = 2022: Deepening in a Different Direction titleClass =title-long len =40

2022: Deepening in a Different Direction

Ahh, year themes. For 2022, I chose the theme Deepening, figuring it would be a good fit with me settling down in BC, doing more deep work now that I finally had a proper office set-up for the first time in a year, deepening my relationship with my partner Sarah after years of difficulty there, and deepening into friendship & collaboration with my old friend Eric (the three of us had just started living together with the aim of creating an intentional culture node).

Instead, my marriage with Sarah ended and I ended up spending almost the entire year travelling.

And yet, much like 2020 when “Free to Dance” ended up not being much about physical dancing (which got locked down for covid) but instead being a beautiful description of my experience of moving out of the community I’d lived in for 7.5 years in order to be free to explore my Non-Naive Trust Dance framework (which itself is very much about fundamental freedom)…

…my 2022 was indeed very much one of deepening. Just… not in the ways I expected.

In early 2022, heading towards my 30th birthday in March, I found myself thinking about how many people find that birthday scary—I’m not in my 20s anymore! Oh no! I’m old! I’m supposed to have my shit together, and I don’t!—and yet I found myself feeling very ready to turn 30. I was settling down into a place for the long haul, I had solid relationships I intended to build on for the rest of my life, I was starting to think about kids, I knew what my work was (both my livelihood from Complice, and my life’s work with the Non-Naive Trust Dance) and I was ready to not be a “young adult”.

Well.

January and February went roughly as I expected. I connected more deeply with the friends I was making on Vancouver Island. I did some deep reading, such as Geoffrey West’s book Scale (top book reco from 2022 for sure). I wrote 21k words on a doc called How We Get There, describing a pathway to collaborative culture which I had first envisioned the same day I had the NNTD insight back in 2020. It was a bit too high-context to publish, but I shared it with some friends and I might edit it into an ebook at some point.

I went to a really cool weekend event on Salt Spring Island called Deep Play Immersion, which was a dozen folks exploring mashups of Improv Theatre, Internal Family Systems, and Circling, by a fascinating guy named Aaron Finbloom. It was there that I discovered that apparently some young part of me thinks that when people (including me) aren’t talking, they in some sense don’t exist. This might explain why I love talking and find silence difficult.

In the meantime, since I love talking, I started making videos and posting them to youtube! Almost entirely single-take no-edit videos, ranging from 3 to 20 minutes long. This seems to be a really easy way to get more of my ideas out there, especially ones that don’t feel refined enough to make into a blog post. These videos feel a bit more ephemeral somehow. I’m at 54 videos out of an initial target of 100. I lost some momentum in the 2nd half of the year but I’m stoked to pick it up again and I’m sure over the coming years I’ll post hundreds of videos. It’s a cool medium.

In early March, I went to Vibecamp in Austin, TX. It was my first trip after the pandemic, and I was stoked to meet friends new and old, and to explore doing things like singing and dancing that we can’t do on the internet.

This is where the year took a turn in a totally different direction.

One of the people I’d been most excited to see at Vibecamp was my close friend Jess. She and I had been trying quite hard to spend time in person for years, but that got repeatedly blocked by logistical complexity and various acts of god, including two specific visits getting cancelled due to a pandemic in 2020 then due to her brother dying in 2021. We’d even managed to meet up very briefly for a few hours in Peace Arch Park on the Canada-US border in Dec 2020. But mostly our relationship had been one of phone calls for the last few years, jamming about business ideas, and holding each other through difficult experiences.

I used to use mine & Jess’s friendship as an example of how men & women can be very close friends without that turning romantic, and she pointed out at one point that that was due to a few factors, most notably that we lived far apart and that she was basically the #1 cheerleader of my marriage with Sarah, and had become sufficiently unpoly that it wouldn’t be right to have a non-platonic relationship with me, despite me & Sarah being poly.

So when Jess and I realized on the first day in Austin that we had a quality of chemistry and connection and attraction that was totally life-partner material, we were like “well, fuck. this is just impossible.” Even if Jess had been poly, I was also feeling the sense in which the energy between us wanted to be a full-size relationship, which there wasn’t space for while I was married to Sarah. The sense of impossibility came in part from the perception, immediately obvious to both of us, that you can’t break a commitment for the purpose of entering into a commitment without messing up your ability to even make a real commitment. So the idea of me “leaving Sarah to be with Jess” as one move was never on the table. But it made it suddenly impossible to ignore how far my relationship with Sarah was from anything resembling a marriage I’d be excited about.

Thus, after a week in which Jess and I talked a lot and looked in each others’ eyes a lot but overall held a firm boundary around taking our relationship further than the cuddly friendship it had been since the beginning… I set that possibility aside and oriented to a simpler question: do I want to be with Sarah?

What do I want?

For context, my relationship with Sarah had been really rough for years, and while things had been getting better in our interactions for a few months, there was still a background feeling of doom that I had. As I put it in a song I later wrote: “there’s a tiny note of sadness, every time I hear a love song… I’ve been trying not to notice but it’s getting kinda hard to ignore”. Or for instance, sometime in January I started reading a book and the author used the phrase “the love of my life” and I felt the ping of doom. Someone had a resonant tweet around that time that I thought I saved but have since failed to find, which was something like “when was the first time you noticed the feeling of marching inescapably towards a future you do not want?” And that sense had been gradually increasing in the background since the previous summer when Sarah and I had started orienting towards having kids together (when we got married, she didn’t want any, I was unsure, and we had previously figured I’d polyamorously have some with someone else if I did).

And I was pretty desperate to have someone else involved. In a monogamous context I think it would be more clear the extent to which this implies some sort of “no”, but (like many polyamorists) the way I was posing the question to myself didn’t highlight that no. I was mostly asking “do I want to give up this relationship?” and it seemed the answer was “of course not!” because there was so much I liked about Sarah and our connection. It was just… missing a huge SOMETHING that seems right at the center of what I wanted from a romantic partnership.

And at this point, while we were theoretically still poly, neither of us had so much as kissed anyone else during our entire 3.5y of marriage until I kissed another gal at Vibecamp (not Jess!) And we were now oriented towards having kids??? It had started off seeming like it would be one serious romantic relationship among many serious romantic relationships… meanwhile I was watching more and more of my formerly poly friends become monogamously oriented if not committed, and so the prospect of meeting someone that would somehow complete my situation with Sarah was seeming vanishingly unrealistic.

On the way back from Austin, I wrote pages and pages in a new paper journal—the first I’d used in years.

Photos I took on the plane as I cracked open the new journal. The art on the cover is Morning Sunny Wave by Olena Skytsiuk. Site

I was staring at my situation and figuring out how to make it work—trying to figure out how to make the relationship with Sarah work. About 20 pages in I had finally constructed a perfect house of cards of rationalizations, when I remembered one fact that I hadn’t quite integrated yet. One thing Sarah and I had been grappling with for a few years was my body odour. I’d heard from a few other people over the years that they found me hard to be around when I hadn’t showered recently, so I sort had sort of just concluded I was kind of stinky. I would wash my armpits before laying down next to Sarah to sleep, and I’d half-resigned myself to doing that for the rest of my life. But only half. And in Austin, I’d discovered that while sure, I get dank sometimes, my usual smell isn’t offensive to everybody. Which suddenly made it clear that I had a choice of whether to wake up next to someone every day for the next 50 years who didn’t like how I smelled. And part of me found that prospect unbearable. It was just one piece, but it was the tip of the iceberg for all forms of incompatibility between Sarah and I that might turn out not to be solvable. And in that moment, in that journalling on the plane, I discovered that I couldn’t reason that away. I had to actually consider ending it.

I didn’t want to end my marriage. That’s not what marriages are for. That’s really not what marriages are for. But what are marriages for? Why was I staying in mine?

I wrote in my journal:

I can feel within me various currents of why I’ve stayed, which includes:

  • wanting to show Sarah repair is possible
  • further iteration on NNTD
  • a sense of integrity around the marriage vow
  • the sense of wanting to see how the story ends
  • not wanting to start over

…none of these immediately reference anything in particular about the beauty of the relationship. There is something like that, but it feels very far away, both past & future. Past like 2017, maybe even before we’d met in person. Future like… once all of the issues are somehow resolved…

…part of me doesn’t trust that will ever happen. Fuck, I’ve been shushing that voice. Of course I have.

I feel like it’s too late.

This part says, I should have left a long time ago, but now it’s too late.”

I don’t want to leave! I want this relationship, but good! And if I knew it was never gonna be, I would leave, but every time I’ve gotten close to concluding that, I’ve found more data to encourage myself. Fuck.

I was done living my life with a looming sense of doom, and if I was done I didn’t want to keep dragging things out for Sarah either, especially now that she was clear she was interested in having kids. So, when we got home, I put my life on hold to look at this question. I asked George, who’d been doing a bit of work with Complice, to handle all of the support mail and call me if the server went down and not otherwise. I cancelled irrelevant calls.

I didn’t go off into a hole to just think on my own though. I called a close friend who’d had a childless divorce in the time I’d known him, who I knew had similar views about the sacredness of a marriage vow. I called my mum, both because she was my mum and also because I wanted whatever wisdom she’d gotten from her process of deciding to leave my dad when I was 22. I called the oldest friend I’m still in touch with, someone who knew me before I’d ever kissed a girl and who had relatively little context on my life the last decade. I called a mentor, one of the only people I know who is looking at the same culture puzzles as me and is a parent (I only knew of his toddler, but it turns out he’d had 2 kids in a first marriage so he had even more relevant experience than I thought). I journaled extensively into a private feed channel and got reflection and encouragement from friends there.

One of the things that was most striking from these conversations was realizing that even though my friends & family had been so supportive of my marriage, they were ultimately wanting to support me, like they were supporting my marriage because I wanted to continue the marriage, but if I didn’t, they would support that too! It’s so obvious in retrospect but it was legit surprising at the time. I don’t know if this was partially just projected attachment stuff, but on some level I’d sorta feared that I’d be completely alone and unloved if I ended my marriage. That all my friends would abandon me too, or completely not trust me. Instead I got the message: we’ll still love you, whatever you choose. You don’t have to do anything here. That loosened things a lot. A lot of them also reflected how exhausted I seemed.

Describing this whole process could be many posts in itself—some of which I may yet write about—but for now this post still has 9 more months to cover, and the essence of what needs to be said here is that I listened to myself more deeply than I had before, and I found no way to move forward without continuing to feel a sense of wrongness, so I told Sarah I wanted to take our rings off and end the marriage. I wasn’t initially 100% certain there was no future for me & Sarah as a couple—maybe we could take several steps back and find a new way in? What I was certain of was that we couldn’t make a happy marriage out of the marriage we were in, which had been unhappy since literally day one. (I don’t want to go into it but the day we did the tiny civil ceremony where we got legally married was a really shitty day.)

Telling a story

As I write that sentence in my 2022 review post, I’m thinking about how my 2018 review post was editorialized. At the point I wrote it, even though we were legally married we were still vaguely intending to have an actual wedding; for that reason and others I phrased this life update ambiguously as “I chose Sarah as a life partner”, not as “I got married”. Also left unmentioned in my 2018 review was how stressed we were.

There is no way to tell a story without telling it in a particular way—leaving some details out and overemphasizing others. I can feel, while writing this piece, the parts I’m leaving out, and why. Some are just extraneous tangents. Some are fun details but just don’t flow in the linear prose. Some are relevant but involve private context. Some feel like they’d take too long to explain, or they’d be better as a separate exploration. 

For a story sufficiently complex, there’s no way to even tell it perfectly in order, since elements interweave and it would take infinitely long to go into all of the fractal complexity. And then some details that wouldn’t amount to anything if mentioned in linear order turn out to be the clues that solve the mystery later.

There’s no way to tell a story without telling it from a particular perspective. If I tried to summarize 2018 now, I would talk about all of it completely differently with the hindsight of how everything unfolded afterwards—not just with Sarah but with Jean and Waterloo—and without the constraints of certain things I was avoiding saying at the time but am fine saying now. And yet there are still other parts I probably wouldn’t mention.

What is honesty, in this context? It’s my aim to tell this story in a way that is honest and open. I have experienced repeatedly that when people have the courage to talk candidly about their lives, others learn from it or feel less alone. Sometimes the most honest communication is one that evokes a deep truth while containing some surface-level inaccuracies in order to avoid distracting with unnecessary or misleading details. This is the sense in which fiction can embody deep truths about human nature or love or whatever, while containing no “true events”.

Also left unmentioned in my 2018 review was how stressed we were.

I, perhaps sometimes more than others, have often tended to editorialize my life in an optimistic way, emphasizing what is going well and deemphasizing my struggles. Or talking about my struggles only to say “but now things are great!” when in fact those struggles have temporarily excused themselves for a smoke break and are due back any minute.

This editorializing has been not simply part of how I’ve written my yearly reviews, but also sometimes how I’ve shared my life with others, or even thought about it myself. I’ve been a bit more honest with friends who I’m seeking help from, but even there, part of my understanding at the time of the nature of a marriage vow was that it’s about not questioning whether to stay in the relationship, so I didn’t.

Steve Jobs has a quote about only being able to connect the dots going backwards.

Take, for instance, the paragraph above where I described the doom feeling in relation to love songs and phrases like “the love of my life”. That was happening in January. But I didn’t think to mention it, in telling this story, until I got to the point where I was actually grappling with the question of whether to stay with Sarah—even though I knew that’s where the story was headed and had already foreshadowed it!

Part of that is of course just narrative coherence; I wanted to describe the other stuff from January first and not have it feel like a weird sidetrack from the arc of how my relationship ended.

Part of it’s also like, one of the reasons I write these yearly reviews is to basically providing a way for someone to get caught up on what’s going on in my life, the way they would if we were talking more often, and aside from a few very close friends who knew I was already dealing with major pain & tension in my relationship with Sarah, other people didn’t learn about any of this until the point at the story where I couldn’t hide it anymore.

I was thinking perhaps that another lens is that the feeling of doom might be something I sort of never intended to talk about at all. I was going to deal with it and then be with Sarah happily ever after and not need to talk about it. But I don’t actually know if that’s accurate either! As I said, I’ve talked a fair bit about my struggles publicly once they’re in the past. So maybe my loose plan was to write proudly about how I worked through the doom feeling and got to the other side.

Why communication fails

But as I re-read these old notes, one of the most striking things for me is how much about what was going on for me internally that Sarah didn’t know, about how I felt towards her and the relationship. Partially things I wasn’t telling her, partially things I’d tried and failed repeatedly to convey. I’d tried to talk about various things with her, at many points, including a letter I shared with her in early 2021 describing how I was “like 9 maxed-out credit cards deep in some basic resource… it’s hard to name precisely… “feeling wanted” captures it quite well tho”, and also including some concerns about incompatibility or unworkability that I’d tried to bring up a few months into our relationship that caused her a lot of pain but didn’t result in me really feeling understood, and I ended up just trying to repress those concerns and change myself in order to see her as more “my type”. I made some progress on that, but other aspects weren’t shifting and I had no reason to think they ever would or could, especially while I still felt so unheard by her about them.

I now have the sense that the reason we were unable to successfully communicate was not due to lack of skill but due to being unwilling to face what would happen if communication were successful.

I suspect this is a very common reason why communication fails.

The truth is painful sometimes. It hurts more or less, depending on how and when it’s revealed, but sometimes it’s going to hurt sooner or later. And sometimes a little bit of it hurts, so we learn to shut our mouths or our ears before we get more of it.

The truth was I didn’t want to be married to Sarah.

The truth was that once she really knew how I felt about her, she didn’t want to be married to me either.

As we were separating, I told a friend about it, he said “I’m feeling kind of discouraged, like, I’d kind of held you two as an shining example of how with good enough communication skills, you could make any relationship work.” I asked him, “how good would you and I have to be at communicating in order to be happily married to each other?” He—like me, a straight man—got my point. What good communication would achieve in such a situation would be the clarity that we didn’t want to be married to each other.

Communication is for seeing what’s true together, not for making things work if they don’t want to work.

And Sarah and I were both trying so hard to communicate—so hard to see what was true together. But until last spring, we were trying even harder to stay together. We’d talked once or twice about ending things, when things were rough, but neither of us wanted to give up—on each other or on our commitment.

When I was grappling with everything last March, before I knew the answer, and talking with my friends about it, several of them commented that they trusted my integrity deeply, and I was like “HOW?!” because it was becoming painfully clear to me how my lack of integrity had resulted in me making a commitment I was so conflicted about in the first place, and to not having been able to resolve that sooner. What I realized the moment I’d made the decision to leave is that what they were trusting was not so much my integrity as some static thing I have, but more like my integrity-generating process—they trusted that now that it was unable to avoid dealing with this situation, that I would deal with it, rather than run away.

Grappling with the end

The multi-week process of becoming clear that I needed to end the marriage involved a bunch of struggle and feeling crazy & scared & torn & nauseated & angry & sad & confused & bewildered…

…but in the end, once I summoned the courage to truly ask myself the question and to surrender to the answer being whatever it was, the answer was obvious. It was right there. And in that moment, I felt that Sarah would feel relieved as well.

I hadn’t accounted for the fact that at that point, she was still trying harder to make things work than she was trying to see what was true (as I had been the whole time as well) so she got blindsided.

Once I’d gotten clear, telling her was in some ways straightforward. I wrote it up in advance, but ultimately the specific phrasings I had were mostly irrelevant. The point was that she finally heard me. Things I’d been trying to say for years but slightly obscuring my words because I sort of only wanted to be understood on condition of keeping the relationship, finally landed. Saying it was not that hard. Being with her pain once I did was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life.

Trying to make sense of her bewilderment, she described it as like a person who only discovers their spouse has a gambling addiction when the house is foreclosed. I first felt like this was totally on me for being Mr Positive, and there’s truth to that, but then I remembered that I had tried—the letter I’d shared with her a year earlier that literally used the phrase “9 maxed-out credit cards of some emotional resource”. That letter was trying to imply, but nonetheless stopped short of saying, that if we didn’t do something about that, I’d be out. Because I was trying to embody some concept of commitment at all costs. And things had gotten a little better since then, and seemed to be slowly improving. But our marriage, the whole time, had had an energy of fixing, and the energy of fixing was a huge part of the issue, and there was no way to fix away the fixing. So I declared bankruptcy.

Neither of us felt like enough for each other, in different ways, and I saw no path to feeling enough by somehow accepting each other as we were, as spouses.

As I gestured at above, I was initially still open to the possibility of us having a marriage together, but I was done with this marriage. Sarah didn’t know what that meant. To be fair, I barely knew what that meant. I just knew I wanted to back up until we were enough for each other, and then step closer only if we were able to maintain that enoughness.

“my boundaries are the closest distance where I can love you & me simultaneously”

— Prentis Hemphill

Space, and adventure

We needed to back up a bit further than we could manage while in the same apartment. Fortunately, I was already planning to go to Easter Swing in Seattle in mid-April—my first West Coast Swing convention. In parallel, my friend & colleague George had been wanting to organize an adventure in Colorado for the end of April for a few friends. So after a few tense and turbulent weeks still in the same space and with the future still profoundly up in the air, we (me and Eric and his new partner Mary who’d been in the process of moving in with us) left Sarah with some space to digest everything and went to dance.

I brought the perfect shirt for the night they turned on the blacklights.

The dance convention was a perfect context for me to digest things as well. I got in touch with my body in ways that had been slightly blocked. I enjoyed experiencing who I was attracted to and who I wasn’t attracted to, without feeling like there was supposed to be a right answer to that. Turns out I do kind of have a type! I had kind of identified as not having a type, since when I was poly I just wanted to hook up with almost everybody I knew, but I had been trying not to notice that I had a much narrower sense of what I wanted when it came to marriage and procreation. I’ve come to the conclusion that while it’s probably important not to reify your type or even identify with it, it’s also really important to allow yourself to have preferences you don’t understand, and not try to fix them to match some idea of who you should like. I think in a sane society, teens would be encouraged to notice these sorts of patterns in their desires, rather than fixating on some collective sense of who’s hot and who’s not. And for those of us who didn’t grow up in a sane society, adulthood isn’t too late to start getting curious about this.

Anyway, Easter Swing was a blast, and I really enjoyed getting way better at a skill I’d been practicing for a year! George came for a little bit of it, then he and I flew together to Colorado and met with Benjamin and Teresa. The four of us spent a week meeting some of George’s family friends and influential mentors, saw two back-to-back Jacob Collier concerts, then did a sort of retreat week up in the mountains where we explored collaborative culture and collective consciousness, as well as our relationships with each other, past and present—George & Teresa were formerly in a romantic partnership, and Benjamin used to work with me on Complice and still does on the Goal-Crafting Intensives (more in February), as does Teresa as of a couple years ago.

Lifehack: one way to increase the odds of getting to interact with a sufficiently weird musician is to paint everyone’s face in the front row then offer to paint theirs.

While I was up in the mountains, I had some exchanges with Sarah, Eric, and Mary, about what the future held. It sounds crazy in retrospect, but we were still considering living together (although I was clear I would spend the next few months travelling). We all really liked our four-person dynamic and there was initially some hope that somehow we could make things work even while Sarah and I were taking a step back. We had to move out of the place we’d been in soon, and we were looking at new options for the four of us. I forget the exact order of things but one thing that happened was that Eric & Mary discerned that they didn’t want to live with either Sarah or myself, for various reasons. And I wrote a piece up about that that spoke to how I was still excited by the possibility of having Sarah as a roommate, just not as a romantic partner (even more clearly than before) and… the way I wrote about that communicated something to Sarah that shifted her from a mode of trying to make things work or get me back, towards “we’d better start figuring out separation paperwork.”

I’d originally had a flight to return to Seattle and hang out with friends for a few days before taking a ferry back to Vancouver Island, but I happened onto a call with my friend Conor who runs Roam, and he invited me to come hang out with him in Utah for a few days. Throughout this time, it continued to be really valuable to connect with people who’d known me from before I’d been in the relationship with Sarah. It helped expand my sense of self outwards in time. He and I also went ATVing, and there was something liberating about feeling like I was no longer bound by however Sarah might feel about it—some sort of singleness energy to it.

Conor floated the idea that I might join Roam in some sort of role—I said I didn’t want to make any commitments just yet.

While I was in Utah, I threw out my deodorant.

I had bought it based on Sarah smelling a bunch of options and telling me which she liked best. I didn’t need it anymore. I wanted to smell like me, and repel any women who weren’t into it. My own natural homme intense.

When I did get to Seattle in mid-May, I had some calls with Jess and a mutual friend of ours who’d been tracking the whole situation from several vantage points. I had loosely been planning to travel the world for a few months before going to SF and seeing Jess again, but they pointed out that…

…well, basically, they pointed out that despite Jess and I aiming to not get too entangled during that week in Austin in March, the contact that we had made had resulted in Jess feeling attached, and that in order for me to not see her until the fall, I’d have to make some move equivalent to breaking up with her.

I sensed into what I wanted. Eric & Mary & I were moving out at the end of May, I had some plans to be in Portugal in early July for some events friends were running, and plans to spend August in Bali with my internet friend Michael Ashcroft. June, despite being very soon, was still mysteriously open. What if I started my trip with a month in the Bay, and just found out what happened? That seemed increasingly obvious as a next move.

I had a few weeks to sort out the separation papers, pack up my stuff, finish writing & record a song called The Courage to Leave, and take care of anything else I needed in BC or Canada before being gone for at least 3 months. The song has an intriguing backstory which I wrote about here.

Deepening my sense of what I want: work & family

I spent my first weekend in the US near Seattle again, connecting with Eric and our old friend Michael Smith who lives near there. We spent the time talking about and exploring the edges of how individual humans come together to form a sense of superorganism, and how there’s a quality of surrender to that that’s simultaneously universal yet extremely specific & contextual. My recent blog post The choice to open, the choice to allow builds on some of what we explored there.

During that little retreat I came to realize more clearly how I’d gotten my work and romance/family life crushed into some sort of fusion over the past decade, and got a better sense of how to separate those. By “work” here I’m not referring so much to Complice (although Sarah has been and continues to be involved in the Goal-Crafting Intensive workshops) but the cultural evolution project that forms more of my life’s work / vocation. I keep discovering that the two are more related than I thought though.

The whole nature of the marriage I had with Sarah was deeply bound up in the culture project as I’d understood it back in the early phase of our relationship, including a bunch of frames about mindset choice that I later came to see as a confusion. In addition to the legal marriage and the social marriage we had, there was a spiritual element of the marriage that we weren’t seeing as exclusive to just the two of us nor inherently romantic per se—I’ve felt similar senses of connection & commitment with Jean and with Eric, which have both changed in expression due to circumstances, but some deep something remains. But that’s part of the puzzle! When you see something deep with someone, what does that actually imply? I thought the depth of spiritual connection Sarah and I felt meant that we should get married. It did seem to mean that, at the time.

Pondering that, I wrote a new verse to my song I Will Be In Love (here’s a recording of the song by a pop-up choir Jess and I ran at Vibecamp)

I’ve seen you in love, and you’ve seen me see that look in your eyes
We’ve seen things together that made us think we were so wise
What does it mean, for how we want to organize our lives?
What does it tell us, about our most intimate drives?

I came to realize that while I need lots of (meta-)cultural compatibility with a marriage partner, there’s a difference between someone wanting to embody a particular flavor of collaborative culture and someone wanting to make scaling collaborative culture their life’s work, and that the more important question for marriage is “do I want to be with you? do we fit together in this particular way?” Sarah and I fit together in many ways, but except in rare cases, our dynamic was usually more sibling-like or friend-like or colleague-like than romantic or erotic. And I realized that those are really core elements for having a marriage-shaped superorganism, and that the strategic puzzles of how to scale human collaborative superorganisms could be a work puzzle that my romantic partner might be no more involved in than they are with Complice.

Prior to 2020, I kind of needed to feel that someone was bought into a particular paradigm (mine/Jean’s) about cultural evolution and committed to a particular way of being, in order for the relationship to seem viable for serious investment and in some sense in order for me to trust them. Theoretically, this way of being could be described as “thinking that welcomes other thinking”, but the way I and others were relating to it at that time was paradoxically the exact opposite—thinking that rejects other thinking.

I still sometimes do that by habit, but since the NNTD insight in mid-2020, the question I’m aiming to ask about a given relationship is simpler, more raw: is this working for both of us? Are we able to resolve conflicts & misunderstandings? What I’ve learned from my time fixated on “post-blame & post-judgment” as an approach to that remains helpful, but as I said above, sometimes the result of successful communication is just that you realize that you don’t want to be involved with each other in a particular way. If something’s not working, that might not be a communication problem that needs to be solved with more communication. It might be a sign that we’re heading off course. And commitment to a particular approach ends up just getting in the way.

So I oriented towards the imminent meeting with Jess from a new place of a kind of openness & groundlessness—no container but reality, and knowing that we didn’t have the answers just whatever wisdom we’d picked up in our experience so far. Just encountering her and seeing what would happen.

Back to the Bay

Had there been no pandemic, and I’d visited the Bay in March 2020 as I’d planned, I probably would have stayed with Jess, since she was one of the main friends I was still regularly in touch with who was still there. But given everything, I reached out to some other friends to arrange other places to stay. I didn’t have as many Bay friends as before! From about 2013 to 2018, well over half my social life had been in the Bay (Waterloo was for school & Complice & the Upstart Collaboratory culture incubator) but in the years since many had moved out or I’d lost touch with them. Nonetheless, a few friends came through and I also found a room posted to a fb group that turned out to be literally the room I’d lived in in late 2013 when I did an internship at Twitter. Staying there was very trippy.

It was weird and wonderful to see so many old friends and acquaintances again. Running into the acquaintances was its own kind of meaningful, even though if I had to pick I would have taken friends-only over acquaintances-only. It’s part of the sense of there being a scene in SF that I’m part of. I reconciled a bit with someone I’d had tension with—large events are great for creating opportunities for that sort of thing. I also discovered that many people who I hadn’t been that close to before were now interested in very similar questions as me. It feels like there’s a kind of emerging field around collaborative culture. I organized a little salon about human superorganisms, checked out Jason Benn’s Neighborhood SF project, went to rationalist solstice and some other parties, and finally met some people I’d known on twitter for years.

And I started to explore romance with Jess.

One question on my mind at the time, and on Jess’s mind at the time, was “is this moving too fast?” Maybe it’s on your mind too, as you read this. It’s a good question! And I hope you’re able to hold it as a question, and not an assumption, as you read this. Part of me fears people will simply assume I went too fast, and it’s making it hard to write this part. And… so be it. I’d rather be judged for the truth than liked for a façade.

We met each other again. We fell in love. We were astonished at the utter familiarity and yet utter newness of each other: you’re the person I had so many phone calls with, but whose face I had barely looked at this whole time? You’re the person I felt so good cuddling and falling asleep next to back when we first met in 2017, but somehow hadn’t kissed until now? We had said “I love you” to each other before, as I do with many of my friends, but obviously it hits different with a lover. Even each others’ names felt different in our mouths and ears.

We fought—fuck, did you know fighting can be satisfying and exciting and bring you closer to someone? Still scary, but thrilling and deepening rather than creating layers of scar-tissue. Jess said some stuff that reminded me of how Sarah and I got stuck in our not-enoughness dynamic and I told her that if I wasn’t enough for her as I was, then I was out. And that maybe on my own I would grow in some way that would make me enough for her, and we’d get back together, or maybe I wouldn’t or we wouldn’t both be single by then… but in any case, I wouldn’t stick around in a situation I was “not enough” for. Threads of this tension continued and a month later we found something essential that Jess’s demand was sticking up for while also dissolving an unnecessary aspect of how she was approaching it.

We progressively revealed & discovered that we’d both had a crush on each other when we first met in 2017, but didn’t do anything about it because while poly at the time, we were both preoccupied by other serious relationships and slightly intimidated by each other. We reflected that it was probably best that we hadn’t tried anything at the time, since we wouldn’t have actually been viable as a serious pair prior to her going through multiple transformations that made her oriented towards having spiritual relationships, and me going through my paradigmatic breakup with Jean. Also a few years ago we wouldn’t have been capable of managing energy—I’m often very high-energy, and my conversations with Jess would result in her feeling caffeinated. She and I are both more capable of navigating that now.

Was I still processing the end of my relationship with Sarah? I was. I wouldn’t have been ready to date anybody other than Jess, and I said that at the time. It would have been too weird to be healing my heartbreak with someone who didn’t have the context of how it had gotten broken in the first place. Also in order to date someone new—in a serious way, not just a hookup—I would have felt like I needed to have my shit together more than I did, and I wasn’t about to fake it.

But Jess had seen and encouraged me through my marriage—she’d been in my corner, challenging me to write that letter to Sarah around New Years 2021 about how I felt so unloved, as my friend who was offended that I wasn’t standing up for myself, based on her experience of reading Passionate Marriage and learning about crucibles and two-choice dilemmas. She had the context. She knew exactly how much of my shit I had together, and she was up for encountering me with me.

So it was fast. And yet, as far as I can tell, with my newly attuned sensitivity to the importance of catching my breath, it wasn’t the slightest bit too fast. It felt just right, and surprisingly sane and ordinary, for both of us. We’d both had experiences of getting in too deep too quickly and making a bunch of assumptions, and instead we took an approach of staying very much in touch with our own autonomy and the reality that the relationship was not a given and that we’d both want out if it weren’t fully right for us. I listened to Heart to Break by Kim Petras on repeat, as I watched myself fall deeper in love and prepared for the possibility that it would hurt me deeper than I’d ever let myself be hurt before. This was a new experience—in the past I’d always sort of assumed that a relationship would work out or I’d be glad for it to end.

On the last weekend, we made location-TBD plans to connect in September when I got back to North America from Southeast Asia. We weren’t sure exactly who we were to each other, but we knew we weren’t exclusive yet. Jess had come around to monogamy making sense a couple years ago, but I was new to the prospect and while it was increasingly appealing, we both wanted to make sure I wasn’t just assuming that I was okay with it because she was.

And from there, I set off to be a solo guy on an adventure.


July in Europe

Being solo on an adventure wasn’t just about being out of the relationship with Sarah. There’s also a sense in which before I’d even met Sarah, I spent a couple years in pretty tight coordination with the group in Waterloo. And I would spend months of the year in SF, but there I was kind of buffeted around between different social events. The first part of my trip did involve some events, but I wanted it to also feel really spacious.

Lisbon

I have really cool internet friends. Sometimes they make events happen. Vibecamp was one of those. About 30 of us convened in Lisbon for an event I dubbed Catalyzbon. The name was partially because we were intending to have the event catalyze projects we’d work on together. As far as I can tell, it was completely a bust on that front in an immediate sense. Almost nothing got shipped from that event that I’m aware of. Turns out that meeting in person is great for things like making food & eating together, dancing, circling, skinny-dipping, walking, adventuring, telling stories, experimenting with conversational forms, snuggling, and otherwise vibing… but working on projects together can be done about as well from a bunch of desks around the world—and better in some ways since it’s easier to focus and you can really make your home desk set-up amazing.

That’s not to say an event like Catalyzbon can’t help catalyze collaborations, but in my model the projects happen afterwards on the basis of the trust built by all the in-person vibing. Jordan Hall has a inspiring concept related to this called Civium (the linked video is what inspired me to check out the Scale book that I mentioned at the top of the post, a fact you’ve probably either forgotten or have saved in the form of an open browser tab). Civium is about the idea that as we become able to collaborate with people anywhere in the world, the productivity and innovation gains that accrue to cities will accrue to a virtual global city of billions of people. Since (as Scale points out) these gains are superlinear per-capita, ie each person in a large city innovates more than each person in a small city, this is a BIG DEAL.

Anyway, at one point I got inspired to write a song the way I used to write songs—not letting go of the muse until the song was written. I even made a little recording & music video while we were at one of the airbnbs. The song is called The Old Muse and the act of writing it felt like it also expanded my sense of self out temporally by getting me back in touch with my experience of songwriting pre-2012.

At any given time, you could talk of someone’s life having time horizons, forwards or backwards. When I left Waterloo in 2020, that involved letting go of a lot of things, but there was still the continuity of my relationship with Sarah, so my horizon backwards felt like it stopped at about 2017 when we got together. With that ending, I felt more connected to my early-20s self and my teenage self and so on. I suspect that the sense of horizon is a bit of a sign that certain aspects of someone’s life are sort of cordoned off from each other, and that a well-integrated person would feel a lot of continuity even as they got in and out of relationships and jobs and so on. And I also feel more integrated in other ways now too, such as with my relationship with the rationalist and EA scenes. They don’t feel disconnected from my sense of childhood, and family, and so on.

I enjoyed exploring Lisbon (this was my first time as an adult travelling outside North America, and I was struck by how old the city was) and connecting spontaneously with different friends who were also in the city after the event had ended. I also struck up some conversations with strangers, including one in French with folks who it turned out were from Montréal.

Jess and I messaged each other a bit during this time, trying to figure out how to relate while I was travelling. We had another fight, and it was even better than the last fight. It’s a good sign when conflict resolves to unprecedented closeness within a week or two, rather than getting partially resolved but never quite reaching previous ease.

Solo-what-now

On July 22nd, I checked out of my airbnb in Lisbon, and went to a park to decide where to go next. I had deliberately left this decision until that morning, so that I could truly feel my freedom to hop a plane.

That was awesome. It felt like a whole new level of the texture I’ve been creating with my days off—profound openness and spaciousness.

Months earlier, I had imagined that at this point I’d get on a train, but that was looking less likely since Europe was in heatwave mode and I didn’t want to be staying at a random hostel with no AC (I can’t really sleep if it’s over 23°C (73°F)). My cabin in Bali wouldn’t become available for another 2 weeks, but aside from that I had no constraints aside from my budget.

This really helped narrow down my otherwise bewilderingly open possibility field. I looked at a map of Europe, and my options were… Norway… the Alps… or Scotland. Everywhere else was bright red or orange, ie way too hot.

I had no particular reason to go to Norway or the Alps, but I have almost entirely Scottish heritage, so Scotland it was! I booked a flight from Lisbon to London with the intention of staying with friends then taking a train through the countryside up to Glasgow (near where my ancestors lived). On my way to the airport, I stopped by a tourist attraction in Lisbon—a very old cathedral that had burnt down once then burnt not-quite-down again and still exists in charred form but really beautiful. Then I ran into a friend who’d been in town, who I’d totally forgotten lives in Glasgow! She and her partner were staying in Portugal for another week, so she just gave me the key to her apartment so I could crash there for free! Which from some points of view you could call “synchronicity” (a suggestion which would disgust the sensibilities of Malcolm from a decade ago… this video might make such a notion palatable to him).

Glasgow

I arrived in Glasgow and after getting my stuff set up a little bit, I just completely let go of any sense of having anything to do. I put my phone on airplane mode. I spontaneously improvised a song and took my phone off airplane mode to send it to Jess. I put my phone back on airplane mode.

Now what? What next, given everything?

I wanted to meet people. Given my recent delight in talking with strangers in Lisbon, I figured I just needed to find a pub—which, after all, is short for public house. I made my way down a main street nearby, looking for a pub that seemed likely to have a bit more food before circling back to the first one I’d passed, which was very tiny (like 150 sq ft = 14m²). I ordered a beer at the bar and started chatting with the bartender.

I used a song that was playing as a pretense for striking up a conversation with a couple other folks who were at a table, and when I got chatting with them, somehow another table overheard me mention that it was my first night in Glasgow and that I had Scottish heritage, and got curious trying to figure out if they knew the town my dad’s family was from.

That was one of several ways in which I felt more at home in Glasgow than in Lisbon. Sure, the language as well. But also culturally, having Scottish heritage and having grown up in Nova Scotia (Latin for “New Scotland”)… Glasgow just made sense to me. The group I was chatting with at the pub were an oddball collection anyway, including several people who’d lived around the world (one both near Toronto & in Morocco) as well as an englishman and a frenchman who’d each lived in Scotland for years, and the latter of whose accent I found very trippy.

Being in adventure mode as I was, I went to hang out with some of the guys at their nearby apartment after the bar gathering, and they invited me to an open mic the following night, so I went to that. I had a blast performing one rehearsed and one improvisational song on my loop machine.

A few people had suggested I camp in the highlands, and I delighted in the idea that I could just go do that, without having to eg coordinate with anyone. But then I realized I didn’t actually feel like doing it, and I delighted in the experience of not having to coordinate with anyone about deciding not to, either! I was just free to do what I felt like. The whole week was aimed as a deepening of solo sovereignty, and I really felt that.

At one point I wanted more local cuisine but the only place open was an Indian restaurant. Fortunately, in Scotland…

By the end of the week, I’d booked a flight to Berlin and from there to Bali.

Berlin

Before I hit Glasgow, a bunch of my Lisbon crew had already started planning for another gathering in Berlin, but I didn’t want to commit to that so I’d just told them maybe I’d make it, maybe not.

I decided to go. The first night was epic—a breathwork session as a group. The most impactful part for me was during the check-in round at the start where I got increasingly frustrated because I just wanted to start things and then when it was my turn I shared that anger and actually let some of it flow. In some ways more of it flowed then than during the actual breathwork session, since it was real and about the situation, rather than me trying to get in touch with something from when I was 13.

But then some friends got covid (in retrospect a group breathwork session was rather risky) and I left the group for a tiny hotel room with AC because I didn’t want to get sick a couple days before my flight to Bali. So I didn’t see that much of Berlin but I went on a few adventures including one where I tried a mindful 20min walk back to my hotel, navigating without my phone and without talking, missed it and ended up walking for hours and finding the Reichstag and Brandenburg gate.

And I still managed to meet up with friends!

On the last day in Berlin I went and hung out with my friends again, at a 1-day unsalon that Richard Bartlett was running, at which I hosted a trust-mapping conversation that yielded some confusion and tension but also some rich connection with someone named Max who I sensed from how he interacted with the conversation would become a friend and collaborator.

August in Southeast Asia

Bali

I arrived at my cabin in Bali, passed out at 6pm because I hadn’t slept well on my flight, woke up around dawn and wandered down to the beach, thinking I’d adapted to the local timezone somehow already. I ate some banana pancakes from a vendor, watched someone get a surf lesson, and walked back to my cabin, only to… pass out and sleep all day. Learning from 2022: how jetlag works.

Bali was weird. Aspects were paradisiacal, of course, but I wouldn’t want to live there and I’m honestly not sure if I’d go back. Nobody walks anywhere, which I had heard was because the roads are dangerously narrow and covered in scooters, but that’s actually not the whole story. If you try walking, people will aggressively offer you a ride—not just taxis but random locals & expats—unable to comprehend that someone might possibly enjoy walking. Part of their incomprehension was because… it was actually really hard to enjoy walking there. It’s so hot and humid all the time that even at 10pm, you can’t walk more than 5 minutes without getting sticky with sweat. I did this a few times anyway because I love walking, including at one point doing a really satisfied walking meditation inspired by hanging out with Michael Ashcroft and embodiedly jamming on his expanding awareness practices based on Alexander Technique.

I had sort of planned to spend Bali working on Complice’s growth, and I did a bit of that, writing some threads, but I ended up focusing more of my attention on a bunch of writing that was more related to some ideas I had for creating a research lab oriented towards trust and human interfacing. That writing went well, producing a lot of conceptual clarity, and conversations with prospective funders and supporters went fairly well.

I also just had more trouble working there than I expected, since I was disoriented and at points sick. But despite all the travel and disorientation, I did an okay job of keeping up the more serious workout regimen I’d been pretty consistent on earlier in the year. I’ve found I can make way more progress with barbells than I’d been able to with years of bodyweight stuff, and so when I don’t have the weights I now do heavy load stuff like pistol squats and handstand pushups.

I hung out with a really welcoming Improv Comedy group in Uluwatu, which was a blast. In addition to small improv games, they did sessions they called Improve Comedy where we would do 15min extended sessions as a small group and then everyone would debrief and talk about what rocked and what fell flat or got confused. Since a yes-and improv attitude is deeply how I want to live my life, it was cool to get to dive in with an experienced group without it being a whole lesson structure. Learning together. 

I learned how to exhale through my nose underwater, thanks to having a pool next to my cabin that I could practice in a lot. This was a prerequisite for me feeling like it was safe to go surfing, which I did try at one point and found it fun but not worth the work required to paddle out to the waves. Maybe I’ll try wakeboarding.

Singapore

I’d decided that on my way home I’d go see another major internet friend Visakan in Singapore. He and I have been jamming on twitter a lot for many years—a result of a disproportionate effort on his part to make friends with me.

We had a blast hanging out and getting to bridge our internet context not just with in-person connection but also seeing him in the context of the mall he used to hang out at as a kid and in conversation with his wife and friends. We also crashed the EA Global after-unconference at which I met someone I had a deep convo with about the connections between my collective consciousness work and his AI alignment work.

Oh! And I also had the bizarre experience of having travelled across the globe and being in a very foreign country with almost nobody I knew, and sitting down to watch the lightning talks, and there on the projector screen was… my app. Someone was presenting the Effective Altruism Gathertown, and one element of that online virtual space is virtual coworking rooms, powered by Complice!

A Complice room timer, embedded into Gathertown

Obviously it’s not that weird—I knew that the EA scene was into Complice, like it wasn’t a random bar. But it was still profound. Like it gave me a different sense of how flat the world is. I more viscerally get the 6 degrees of separation thing — which facebook announced in 2016 was down to 3.5 among people on its platform (1.5B people, not everybody). I fucking get it. Maybe sometime I’ll travel somewhere where I actually don’t know anybody, but even at an antiques & souvenirs shop in Bali, when I told the local kid who worked at the shop that I was from Canada she said “oh, I visited some family in Vancouver once”. Prior to that moment I might have guessed that she’d only been out of the village a few times—and maybe that’s true of most of the kids in that village, and it’s maybe not even a coincidence that it’s this kid who worked at the souvenir shop. Still, the world is flattening. Do I fucking get it? Maybe I still don’t fuck get it. Maybe none of us really get how connected we are.

September with Jess & family in Nova Scotia

Jess and I had decided that our September rendezvous would be in Nova Scotia where my family lives, in part because I wanted them to meet, in part because I was done with a mood of travelling and wanted to be somewhere I could stay awhile, and in part to save money. Meeting family on one level felt like a big deal, but ultimately she’d also been a close friend of mine for years and if we broke up I’d still be really glad for her to have met my family. Oh—that was another fascinating aspect of the transition from friends to lovers. We were, naturally, suddenly way more curious about each others’ families.

Us in Cape Breton on a super windy cliff trail.

My parents separated a few years ago, but they’re still on decent terms, and so I made the somewhat odd move of suggesting that the four of us go out for dinner. There was something important about that in the sense that each of my parents’ new partners barely knows me, and that something about the dynamic between my parents, different as it was, had some connection to the experience I had of “my parents” as a kid.

One nice benefit of going back to NS was that it simplified my life story a little bit. I’d had this problem throughout the year because when people asked me where I was from I would say “Canada” but then when they asked “where in Canada?” I had no clear answer. I’d grown up in Nova Scotia but lived in Ontario my whole 20s, and then had recently moved out to BC but definitely didn’t feel like I was from BC. But now that I’d been back to the place I’d been from for the first 20 years of my life it felt like it could more clearly be the answer to that question again. One definition of home is “where your family is, that you’ll return to”.

Jess went back to SF, and I had a great time hanging out with my parents in NS. I went on some adventures with my mum, and stayed at my dad’s place mostly. It was a good arrangement! He works from home now so we were basically coworking roommates during the day. He built himself a treadmill desk, and I walked 15km some days while writing. Definitely that’s how I want to live.

While at my dad’s place, I rebooted an old habit I’d created in 2015, which I call “frogs in a tomato reduction” because it’s a mashup of Eat That Frog and the Pomodoro Technique (“pomodoro” is italian for “tomato”, a reference to the kitchen timers). Essentially, each night I choose a most important thing to focus on (a “frog”) for the next day, and when I wake up I don’t consume any feed (both literal food and newsfeeds or emails or whatever) until I have done these two things in order:

  1. at least one pomodoro towards that most important thing
  2. go outside

This sets the bar relatively low—I’m not committing to finishing the frog, or working for many many hours—while encouraging huge upside, since going outside takes just enough activation energy that I usually want to keep doing pomos until I’m done or I’m hungry (which for me is often mid-aft). It means that I don’t just casually get lost online during a pomodoro break.

Ontario in October

It’s so weird writing these posts because any given person reading them might have a ton of context on my life or almost none. For some people, if I say, “I went back to visit my old scene in Ontario for the first time since I left in late 2020,” they’ll immediately have a sense of the context of why that’s particularly significant. It’s not just a bunch of old friends—I was part of a group there that was working intensely on cultural evolution, and then in 2020 my sense of how collaborative culture needed to work diverged somewhat from everyone else’s, and I left (read that story in full in 2020: Free to Dance).

But since one of the main features of what we’re calling “collaborative cultures” is that they’re able to recognize the collaborativeness of other cultures as part of trust-building… it’s a big deal whether my “fork” of the culture kernel (to use an open source metaphor) is still mutually interoperable with the culture it forked off from. Actually, my fork in particular (the “Non-Naive Trust Dance”) is focused on the interoperability and backwards compatibility elements, so this is extra true for me. I wrote much more about the meaning of this fork an a letter to the Ontario scene that I published on my blog shortly before I arrived: Convening an Ontario meta-protocol jam.

The first few days involved reconnecting with the wider scene, both in Toronto and at a gorgeous rural retreat center, which was fun and enlivening and clarifying in various ways. Then I meta-hosted an event by sending out invitations inviting people to a gathering that was to be hosted by my writing (primarily the open letter) with me as just one among many participants. This symmetry is important to the whole puzzle, as far as I can tell. That event went really well, which was both a testament to the power of my framing and the power of the scene that has been developing around Jean Robertson, my friend and colleague and mentor off of whose paradigm my fork occurred.

The next day, after Jean had listened to a recording of the jam the night before, I met with her for the first time since I’d left, and we had a long rich conversation ourselves. It was in some ways a reconciliation, although more even just the preliminary stages, of observing each other and figuring out who we even are to each other at this stage—or who we might be. After a few more larger group conversations over the following days and some more digesting of recordings, we then dedicated a day to going deep into the Malcolm Jean dialogue. With two other community members sort of holding space, Jean and I had an 8h marathon convo (long even by our standards!) exploring the trust-landscape between us.

I reflected to some friends at the end of the day:

We made meaningful headway towards mutual understanding! It’s fascinating how the process of reconciling these massive differences in understanding and major pains and frustrations, now (since NNTD) seems to me to be directly solvable. It takes a long time and a lot of attention in a case like this, but it’s always tractable, never stuck. And the core insight there has been refined for me by these experiences but there’s another level on which it’s all going exactly as expected.

Grokking NNTD in the way that I do is like having an algorithm to solve a fractal relational Rubik’s cube or something.

That long conversation with Jean was a potent example of me applying the coherence skills I had learned from my Coherence Coaching training, into a conversation with symmetrical roles (not coach-client). What this amounts to is listening really deeply to the other person, and insofar as I feel misunderstood or not listened to, trying to figure out why that response is necessary for the other person. So even when Jean would have an objection that seemed completely irrelevant to what I was trying to say, I would acknowledge that it was in some sense irrelevant to me to what I was trying to say, but it was necessarily precisely relevant to what was going on for her as she tried to understand.

And I felt like I kind of got a sense of some of the structures of how the world looks from her perspective that has made her unable to see certain aspects of how the world looks like for my perspective. I don’t know if my sense is accurate at all—we’ve got to do the trust-dancing to find out.

(Oh that’s another thing that happened around this time of the year—I started finding new articulations of the work I’m doing, including a lens on trust as “truth but in first-person”. Which thus means that non-naive trust-dancing between people is in some sense literally the process of trying to figure out out what truth looks like from our first-person plural viewpoint.)

Complice growth exploration

After a short visit with Mary & Eric in Vancouver, I headed to the SF Bay Area again, to connect more with Jess and my other friends in the bay. I started diving into doing more serious Complice marketing, to grow it to the point where it’s not just making enough money for me to live on, but enough money to raise kids, hopefully with Jess if things keep going well—we’re both stoked about it. I wrote some articles about my process around that, which has involved grappling with a lot of resistance to marketing:

I signed up for Tad Hargrave’s Hub Marketing course, but I diverged off the main path as I always do with courses, and didn’t finish it. This is why I don’t run courses, I do choose-your-own-adventure workshops. So far just the Goal-Crafting Intensives, but I’m increasingly keen to explore running more workshops on other topics or with other main hosts.

I also started interviewing a bunch of the most active Complice users, because I realized I was mostly talking with the people who are confused or who submit bug reports, which… is not a representative sample of people who love the app.

I started checking out Sam Harris’s Waking Up app, and got excited about the idea of adding guided meditations to Complice as well, or just little audio clips encouraging people and guiding them towards intentionality. I realized that “intentionality, not productivity” is a good way to frame Complice’s philosophy.

Deeper NNTD collaboration, deeper NNTD demands

I have some sense that each person is carrying some core piece of the collaboration meta-protocol puzzle, perhaps latent and epimemetically unexpressed, perhaps expressed unconsciously. A huge part of the puzzle is finding these pieces and seeing how they fit together fractally. I’ve been doing a bunch of that with Michael Smith, and in the fall he started to share a sense that he was grokking the essence of my Non-Naive Trust Dance kernel more fully, from a mix of theoretical conversations as well as me guiding him through some Internal Trust-Dancing.

In December he came to SF for a week, and we dove even deeper, looking at how his piece and mine connect, mapping that onto the Enneagram of Holy Ideas, and jamming with other people who are holding their own piece of the puzzle. There was a really beautiful moment when he was able to access and reveal a kind of pain that he hadn’t before, and I was able to receive it on behalf of the universe in a way that I could only do because of some of my own pain I’d healed as part of my NNTD insight in 2020.

Some friends who overheard our conversations commented that we seemed to be relating to the whole thing in a rather totalizing way that seemed suspicious to them, and also in a way that was at times intellectual in a way that seemed like spiritual materialism or spiritual narcissism. Blindspot feedback is always hard to receive, because by definition I don’t know what the person is pointing at and in fact I’m practiced at not looking at it.

But more so than before, I feel like I know how to orient to that sort of thing (which is sort of a meta-orientation that involves trusting myself while also not assuming I understand what’s going on at all). I guess it’s more about feeling safe & open orienting towards it. This got me back in touch with a subtle project I’d started in July, inspired by some major questioning by Jess, of listening more deeply to mine & others’ doubts about the viability of the work I’m doing with the NNTD. Doing so, not infinitely much but as much as I feel ready for, is a vital part of actually embodying the NNTD. It’s also exciting, as I have the sense that such a crisis of faith may well yield a similar kind of new insight as the NNTD was in the first place. Surrendering and opening to that process is one of my aims for 2023.

Christmas in Australia

Jess and I decided to do xmas in Australia with her family, in part because unrelated to me starting to date an Australian, my mum and older sister had decided to do xmas in Australia as well! So Jess and I met up with them there, and I got to meet Jess’s family, and my mum and her dad even got to meet briefly.

I checked off almost everything on my list of things to experience in Australia in very satisfying ways (seeing some kangaroos and petting them since they were quite tame, kayaking through mangroves, and seeing all sorts of gorgeous birds) except for seeing a platypus. Next time!

As always, seeing someone in context is illuminating in ways that are unexpected and impossible to articulate. The context was also a bit incomplete—Jess had lost her brother to psychiatric crisis & suicide, and the family scene was still adapting to the hole he left.

And then, as 2022 ended, Jess and I found a tree with an epic view of the famous Sydney harbour fireworks.

2023

My theme for 2023 is a phrase I came up with in July of last year: Allowing Diligence.

I want to have more diligence than I have in past years, but via allowing myself to have diligence rather than trying to make myself have diligence.

I also want to be diligent about my practice of allowing everything in every moment.

There! This is what you are.
There! Nothing else matters.
There! Now let it unfold.

Three Lines That Hit the Nail on the Head, as translated by Ken McLeod
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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Complice, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.



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