Reviewing the choices I made in 2018

I’ve been experimenting with something new for my new year’s reflection: typing in the dark with my screen off, answering the question “What choices did I make last year?”

I’ve got over a hundred lines, each starting with “I chose”.

I think it’s worth reflecting on the impact of the choices as well, but I’ve started just by listing them. Maybe I’ll go back and try to think about the impact of some of these choices, but of course it’s very hard to actually run the counterfactuals, including what would have already needed to be different such that I would have made the other choice?

So far it’s been a very rich process. This article has two parts: first I’ll remark briefly on my experience doing this private reflection, and then I’ll share five choices that I made last year. The latter section represents my 2018 Yearly Review blog post, and also has some in-depth reflections on relationships and productivity.

Things I’ve noticed from reviewing these choices

Some periods of weeks have no notable choices in my memory, even though everyone is always making choices continuously. Other times, I’m very aware of a dozen choices I made on just one very intense day or weekend.

Some choices need to be made continuously & ongoingly, such as the choice to maintain a habit or to achieve something that takes a lot of planning or preparation

Some choices didn’t feel like choices at the time! This has a few variants:

  • I reacted to something before I even thought about it
  • I didn’t imagine any other alternatives
  • I vaguely imagined other alternatives but didn’t really feel into what I wanted
  • Other alternatives were explicit but I couldn’t really fathom taking them. (like how if offered chocolate vs praline ice cream, I would always choose chocolate and it wouldn’t occur to me to prefer praline.)

Some choices were very historic/monumental: they really felt like they could have gone either way and my life is forever changed because of what I chose.

Other choices felt inevitable but there was still a moment of the choice becoming real. (eg when someone says “I do” at a wedding altar… by the time they’re there they’ve already chosen, and yet it’s still meaningful to enact it with that speech act)

» read the rest of this entry »

The patterns that we’re made of

Lizard

A leaf with a shadow on it cast by a gecko on the other side of the leaf.

A photo of a different creature, by Laura Pashkevich

A few months ago, I was sitting in my friend’s backyard, eating breakfast. His family had made a glorious garden with all sorts of tiled mosiacs and flowers and trees and so on. Chewing on some omelette, I was enjoying the view when I saw… a lizard.

It was maybe 15cm long… initially moving and then suddenly motionless. I got up to have a better look.

I found myself wanting to attach various narratives to its motionlessness. “What’s the purpose of this lizard?” I wondered. “What is it trying to do right now?”

I had been recently reading The Simple Math of Evolution, a sequence of posts intended to convey how evolution works in a really straightforward, graspable way. One thing I took away from the post was that evolution is purposeless, and totally nonstrategic. It is simply an optimization process.

This lizard, I realized, had no purpose. » read the rest of this entry »

“What’s it like to be you?”

At burning man this year, I spent a day exploring that question, from the inside and from the outside.

“What’s it like to be you?” I asked someone sitting at the Tea House at my camp. They said something like, “It’s awesome. My life is really great. I have all of these really good friends…” and I said “Sure, sure, but what’s it like?”

I was trying to understand, I guess, what the texture of his qualia was like. (Qualia = “an unfamiliar term for something that could not be more familiar to each of us: the ways things seem to us”(wikipedia)) I was having this feeling that other people were just figures in my dream, or just characters in my story, and I think this was in part an attempt to break out of that.

I spent a few hours at the Tea House, talking with friends and strangers, trying to get glimpses into what the plots of their stories looked like, and sampling my own experiences as well. I ran into Brayden, one of my campmates, around the start of this, who told me that he was heading out. I ran into him again, hours later, just before I was heading out, and he said he was going to go sleep.

I spent a moment being present to the reality that he had had his own story happen in the space between those two tiny interactions, and that our plots had just intersected momentarily.

After I left camp, I found myself reflecting that the “What is it like to be you?” question, while pointed and interesting, wasn’t the only way to get clues about the texture of others’ experience. “How are you doing?” when asked with the right kind of tone, could actually generate some windows into the other person as well. Also, of course, off-hand remarks that people make, if you’re paying attention.

Part of my mission for that day was » read the rest of this entry »

Nonsexual touch: TSA patdowns and the Human Carcass Wash

“I’ll take the patdown please.”

I was going to spend some time looking up the safety of the millimeter rays backscatter machine. How similar is it to stepping into a microwave oven? Milliwave oven? Hmm.

Then it occurred to me that without doing any research, there’s something I can be confident of: whether or not the machine is harmful or not, it’s definitely not good for me. Like it might be harmful, like an x-ray, or neutral, like a metal detector, but it’s not going to be good for my body. If it were, someone would be selling it as therapy.

But I have an option available that is good for my body: nonsexual touch.

“I’ll take the patdown please.”

I step over to the side area and start listening to the guy talk.

Back in January 2013, when I first moved to San Francisco and didn’t know anybody except my coworkers, I went several weeks experiencing almost no touch at all. A few handshakes, some high-fives, and some fist-bumps. Oh, and the patdown from the TSA agent on my way there.

“I’ll start with your back and shoulders. I’m going to touch you with the flat palms of my hands, and when I get to your crotch I’ll use the backs of my hands.”

Huh.

“Okay, now I’m going to move my hands up your legs and stop just before I reach your groin.”

I know this.

“Alright, and now the other side.”

This is called safeporting. » read the rest of this entry »

A portrait of Malcolm Ocean

I'm Malcolm Ocean.

I'm trying to figure out how humans work so I can help make humanity work. More about me.

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