I read "Synectics: The Development of Creative Capacity" by William J. J. Gordon

| Review | ★★★

This book has big ’60s energy, believing in the creative potential of a group of men openly jawboning in a room (but the prompts!) to solve problems. I’ve also read The Practice of Creativity and The Innovator’s Handbook too; the former probably being the best of them. They all are mainly persuasive theory and leave me trying to figure out the actual facilitation plans between the lines.

The book as a whole is engaging and has a lot of transcripts of people talking over eachother to solve a problem, as good as any pulp hard/heroic science fiction of the period.

What is synectics?

The word Synectics, from the Greek, means the joining together of different and apparently irrelevant elements. Synectics theory applies to the integration of diverse individuals into a problem-stating problem-solving group. It is an operational theory for the conscious use of the preconscious psychological mechanisms present in man’s creative activity. The purpose of developing such a theory is to increase the probability of success in problem-stating, problem-solving situations. This increase depends on awareness of the mechanisms which must be worked through to arrive at solutions of fundamental novelty.

And play:

Three general types of mechanisms for play have emerged from these studies: (1) play with words, with meanings and definitions; (2) play in pushing a fundamental law or a basic scientific concept “out of phase”; and (3) play with metaphor.

Demo or die:

The most important (and most underrated) single aspect of a Synectics project is the implementation (in the form of working models) of those concepts developed as solutions. Such model building is vital to the success of a new product or invention program. Moreover, we have observed that unless a teaching program includes the experience of “getting the hands dirty” by actively implementing conceptions, the program is threatened with incompletion and impotence precisely because it is limited to over-abstract discussion. …[30 pages]…Exciting as it is for Synectics groups to succeed in making the familiar strange, it is hardly an end in itself. The end is a functioning, working model of the invention product, just as the end result of a narrative idea is not the idea but the novel into which it is transformed, or as the end result of a visual insight is the painting into which it is evolved.”

The general idea of a Synectics group (“in the Industrial Model”) is having the company psychologist pick a small group of [men] to go live and cook together and solve problems for the firm. This is interesting:

In the selection of personnel for Synectics activity, if we are faced with a choice between two individuals of different intellectual backgrounds, but of similar emotional orientations, our tendency would be to choose only one. On the other hand, two individuals having the same intellectual background but different emotional patterns of response could be included in an integrated group which is designed to reflect extreme diversity.

How do you choose? Lots of bias here:

1. Metaphoric Capacity: The candidate’s language is carefully watched for signs of metaphor and analogy as described by the operational mechanisms: Personal Analogy, Symbolic Analogy, Direct Analogy, and Fantasy Analogy. The candidate is encouraged to speak metaphorically…

  1. Attitude of Assistance: Because some characteristics of a candidate can’t be identified from conversation alone, the interview includes taking a walk in the woods, inviting the candidate to participate in a project on the property (pipe is being laid or a little bridge is being built over a stream, or a new timber is being fitted to the bam); in the evening the candidate meets with the Synectors for a cook-out. If his attitude of assistance has not revealed itself before, the cook-out preparation is used as the ultimate test. In general there are three kinds of response to this activity:

    1. The candidate sits and watches the fire being laid.
    2. The candidate asks if he can help.
    3. The candidate observes what is needed and supplies it.

    Building a fire is such a universal function, known to everyone, that it serves as an excellent test of assistance attitude. Obviously, for the purpose of Synectics, a man who sees how he can help and does it is the most acceptable. Part of the fire making technique is to make sure that there is not enough kindling on the spot so as to guarantee ample opportunity for the candidate to reveal himself.

3. Kinesthetic Coordination: Although clumsiness is not inconsistent with creative potential, Synectors guard against selecting a man whose extreme lack of coordination implies a lack of self-confidence. [jesus christ]…

  1. Risk: In the course of talking to the candidate, Synectors must determine whether he enjoys taking risks and, if so, what kind of risks. Is the candidate a self-destructive gambler who is unconsciously trying to injure himself? Is he willing to risk because he knows it’s the only way to accomplish certain tasks? Does he enjoy risking or does it frighten him?…

5. Emotional Maturity: Creative people tend to have a childlike quality about them, but this childishness is not necessarily a sign of emotional immaturity. The emotionally immature childlike person does not use his childlike surprise, wonder, and infinite curiosity about the world as a psychological basis for creative acts. It is the capacity to integrate childishness into constructive acts which the Synectors look for in their interviews with candidates….

  1. The Capacity to Generalize: What are the candidate’s thinking habits? Can he take three or four facts and construct from them a straightforward, conversational, coherent generalization? Can he oscillate from particular facts to theories which embrace and integrate the facts? A generalization is a hypothesis describing and including diverse and sometimes conflicting data. Can he tolerate the ambiguity with which he must live until a soothing, all-ordering generalization explains the data? And then can he act on the basis of his generalization?…

  2. Commitment: If the candidate believes in something—product or a concept—can he commit himself to bringing it to life? Or is he self-protectively analytical and falsely sophisticated? The personality characteristic of enthusiasm is not by itself a guarantee. The candidate must identify with a project so that its success is crucial to him…

  3. Non-status Oriented: There are traditional symbols of status in American industrial society: carpet on the floor, large clean desks, prints on the wall, name on the door, in charge of a large number of men, conservatively natty clothes, new car—these symbolize the position of a man. Minor variations are permitted within the conventions of this framework to describe the residual differences in personalities. People chosen for Synectics activity must be beyond status as defined by the traditional symbolism because their group will develop another kind of status based on contribution and independence…

  4. Complementary Aspect: No candidate can get a perfect score in all the criteria but the group as a whole should make up 100% of the characteristics implied by the list of criteria. Also, there are certain special personality traits within the candidates which must be balanced. Assume two men who score high, one from research, one from sales. The researcher, introverted and studious, rates the salesman as flamboyant and loud. The salesman calls the researcher mousey and secretive. Each man distrusts the other, yet both are necessary to the success of a Synectics operation. [o_O] Someone must be found who can bring together the researcher and salesman. The Synectors, on the lookout, decide on a man who had been in research but now, for instance, is in sales engineering. This “integrator” is interviewed, not only on the basis of the criteria, but also to learn whether his personality can resolve the conflict between the researcher and the salesman.

But what do they do?!

The Synectic process involves:

  1. making the strange familiar;
  2. making the familiar strange.

…Synectics has identified four mechanisms for making the familiar strange, each metaphorical in character:

  1. Personal Analogy [how would you live/feel if you were the subject under study?]
  2. Direct Analogy [“the actual comparison of parallel facts, knowledge, or technology”]
  3. Symbolic Analogy [“views the problem qualitatively with the condensed suddenness of a poetic phrase.”]
  4. Fantasy Analogy [“How do we in our wildest fantasies desire the subject to operate?”]

Oh brother.

Every mature institution or organization—industrial, governmental or educational—functions according to laws which make up its policy. For example, every company has its own “laws” about personnel, procurement, borrowing money, sales, production, salaries, quality control, customer relations, product line, budgets, advertising, etc. If the laws represent a true response to reality, they will be useful. But often, particularly in the case of an old established company, the laws are habits carried forward from a glittering past. Long-term employees from a middle management level up constitute an intra-organizational community which derives comfort from these familiar laws—obsolete or not. This community is the keeper of the scrolls. The laws are the anthropological shibboleths by which the industrial tribe conducts its ritual of business. A Synectics group is a fifth column acting from within the organization community to make the familiar “laws” strange.

Productive Struggle

From Logic #17, in “The Edtech Gold Rush” by Kevin Miller (emphasis mine):

One of the companies, Imagine Learning, distinguished itself by claiming that, on their platform, students could demonstrate their knowledge of English language and literature by “com-posing a rap song or creating a TikTok.” Some students seemed intrigued. Others groaned over their laptops. Yet another edtech firm was promising to uplift marginalized students by filling the classroom with the kind of entertainment media they consumed at home.

Such products can make educational content more accessible, especially at home, but they cannot actually address academic shortcomings any more than pen and paper. This is because learning happens through what educators call “productive struggle,” not merely the consumption of educational content. Productive struggle is the profession’s term for problem-solving at a level that is difficult for a student, but possible with effort and limited assistance. Educators refer to this magical window of learning as the “zone of proximal development.” Any education technology that is able to employ entertainment to transcend the difficulty inherent in learning ceases to be educational.

But even if such a technology is able to elicit productive struggle among students, it still runs up against a deeper challenge: pov-erty. The real reason that students have difficulty in the classroom is not due to the lack of thoughtful UX design, but because the trauma and instability wrought by the material circumstances of their home and community make engaging in productive struggle difficult. This does not mean that edtech products are useless. But they are not able to address the core cause of educational inequality any more than traditional instruction.

The recent growth in school funding from Covid relief measures gives educators a long-overdue opportunity to confront the material roots of educational inequality. But this influx of public money also represents a potential payday for a fast-growing edtech sector. The edtech market in the US is expected to grow to about $60 billion by 2026, according to an estimate from Global Industry Analysts, more than doubling its 2021 valuation and drastically outpacing the growth of the education sector as a whole. At a moment when governments are committing real resources to public education, companies touting disruptive digital approaches see a gold rush. They plan to win lucrative contracts by promising to solve a problem they can’t possibly solve.

Worknotes - October 23, 2022

  • During my absence, my team was reorganized and I moved under a new director and from developer experience to the product development organization. It’s been exciting (new people, new relationships, new opportunities) and also tiring (new people, new relationships, new opportunities). My team was an odd duck in the old structure, and less-so but still odd in the new structure. My verdict is out if that’s an improvement. I think it can be sometimes be easier to stick out hugely instead of subtly: it’s called whackamole, not whackagiraffe.
  • My team, Ruby Architecture, moved from “Build & Test” within DX, to “UI and Monolith Platform” within Core Productivity. In my old group I was figuring out collaborations with the testing and CI platform. With the new group, we’re figuring out how to better explain “platforms” ourselves. I see a lot of “Shifting Left” in my future and I’m here for it.
  • “A feeling you don’t act upon isn’t real.” I’ve picked up this quote from nearly every Kim Stanley Robinson novel I’ve read. I shared it with a few of my reports this week; I’ve been (gently, I hope!) pushing people to share feedback more actively outside the team.
  • “It’s ok to be mad, it’s not ok to be mean”. Angelina and I had dinner this week with family friends who have a 10-year old and they’ve been a resource during our foster parenting journey. This phrase came up and I have been thinking about this as a better alternative to “Assume good intent.” I’m a big fan of Non-Violent Communication and it fits right in there.
  • Performance Review Season is kicking off again. I’m eligible. It feels like no time has passed but this week is my 6 month anniversary at GitHub! It’s still fun.
  • With my leadership coach, we’ve been talking about Moral Mazes, which led to Meditations on Moloch. The overall theme, and I’ve now been working with the coach for three (!) years is (my words): taking action authentically. And then exploring different shapes of that. Ikigai.

Impenetrable legal language

From the paper “What did I sign? A study of the impenetrability of legalese in contracts” via Assaf Arkin’s Labnotes.

The description of “Center-embedded clauses” was particularly interesting to me in regards to plain language.

Each legalese text was drafted to contain the following language properties that have been identified as difficult to process and common to legal texts:

(a) Low-frequency legal terms – Words that are infrequently used in everyday speech provide processing difficulties for readers relative to higher-frequency synonyms (Marks, Doctorow, & Wittrock, 1974). Legal texts are laden with “archaic words” such as aforesaid, herein, and to wit (P. Tiersma, 2008), which have been shown to be frequently misunderstood by laypeople (e.g. P. M. Tiersma, 1993). Each legalese text was constructed to contain several instances of legal jargon, which were replaced with high-frequency synonyms in the plain-English versions.

(b) Center-embedded clauses – Center-embedded structures have long been observed to pose processing difficulties on a reader (Miller & Chomsky, 1963; Gibson, 1998; Pinker, 2003). The tendency for lawyers to “embed” legal jargon “in convoluted syntax” has been observed not only to be prevalent in legal texts but as a potential badge of honor for those who wish to “talk like a lawyer” and be accepted by their profession (P. Tiersma, 2008). Each legalese text was constructed to contain multiple center-embedded clauses (“Artist and Tour, said parties being hereinafter referred as…”), which were written as separate sentences in the corresponding plain-English version.

(c) Passive-voice structures – Relative to their active-voice counterparts, passive-voice structures are acquired later by children (Baldie, 1976), and may continue to pose difficulties for adults (Ferreira, 2003). Gozdz-Roszkowski (2011) found passive structures to be more prevalent in contracts relative to other legal and non-legal genres (such as newspapers). Our legalese texts each contained multiple passive-voice structures (“This agreement has been formed by the parties”), which we converted into active-voice structures in the corresponding plain-English versions.

(d) Capitalization – Non-standard capitalization is ubiquitous in provisions such as warranty disclaimers and limitations of liability, which “must be conspicuous” in order to be legally upheld (American Law Institute and National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, 2002). Arbel and Toler (2020) found that most standard form agreements used by major companies contain a provision in all-caps. Although the use of all-caps provisions is ostensibly for the benefit of the reader, evidence suggests that they do not aid comprehension (Arbel & Toler, 2020). Here we included at least one chunk of all-capitalized text in each legalese passage (“THE WARRANTY IS HEREBY DISCLAIMED”), which was replaced with standard capitalization in the simple version.

From the set of legalese materials, each passage was encoded in terms of legally relevant propositions. From these propositions, each passage was then translated into a “plain-English” version, which differed only with respect to the four surface properties described above, resulting in 24 total passages.

For each contract pair, 12-15 comprehension questions were drafted. The questions were multiple choice with four options. These questions both targeted comprehension of specific important legal propositions, as well as more general understanding of the legal content. To reduce a response bias for a given register, we controlled the overlap in form between contract excerpt and comprehension question. Both types of comprehension question were drafted in a “neutral” register. Passive/active structures were replaced by nominalizations. For example, “shipment of the goods on the part of merchant” instead of “the goods were shipped by merchant” or “merchant shipped the goods”). High or low frequency synonyms were replaced with a third synonym (e.g. “renter” instead of “lessee” or “tenant”).

Persian Tahchin-inspired crispy chicken rice


This is a Milk Street recipe, but because I detest their instructional design, I redesigned it here. I like this dish because:

  • It can be made with ingredients from Trader Joe’s.
  • It has currants.
  • Crispy, buttery starch is great.
  • It’s resilient; the second time I made it with indirect heat on a propane bbq grill because my oven was on the fritz. Still great. Also I’ve tried brown basmati rice, tried doubling the eggs, tripled the garlic, I’m not measuring the butter and currents. Still great.


  • 1.5 cups basmati rice
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 12 ounces boneless skinless chicken thighs. I think this would also work with seitan or tempeh just mix a bit more oil in.
  • 1 lemon, for juice and zest
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 0.5 cups whole milk greek yogurt
  • 1 large egg (yolk only)
  • 3 tablespoons dried currants
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
  • Parsley, to garnish
  • Roasted Pistachios, to garnish
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

A pie plate. Milk Street spends a paragraph saying why glass is best (you can see the browning), but I’ve been doing ceramic and it’s fine.

30 minutes to 12 hours ahead

Soak the rice. Place the rice in a bowl with enough water to cover by 1 inch and let rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 12 hours. Drain and rinse the rice again.

To begin

  • Place the oven rack at lowest position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees
  • Prepare a large pot of salted boiling water to cook the rice.
  • Thoroughly oil your pie plate.

Prep the ingredients

  • Melt the butter and set aside.
  • Crumble the saffron threads and soak the saffron in 2 tablespoons of boiling water in a small bowl. Set aside.
  • Zest the lemon resulting in about 3 teaspoons of lemon zest, to be divided between the chicken and the yogurt sauce. Put the rest of the lemon aside to be wedged later.
  • Grate the garlic.
  • Trim the chicken thighs into 1 to 1.5 inch pieces and in a medium bowl combine the chicken with 1 tbsp of oil, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, and garlic Salt and pepper it.
  • Separate the egg yolk (discard the white) and mix the yogurt, egg yolk, remaining 2 teaspoons of lemon zest, and saffron water in a bowl large enough to eventually hold the rice too. Salt and pepper it. Whisk to combine well.


  • Add the rice to the pot of salted boiling water and cook for 5 minutes until par-boiled; the rice will still be slightly crunchy. Drain the rice.
  • Mix the par-boiled rice with the yogurt mixture and stir to combine.
  • Add about 1/3 of the rice mixture to the bottom of the pie plate, pressing it into an even layer on the bottom and halfway up the sides.
  • Mix the currants and the yogurt-chicken mixture into the remaining rice and yogurt mixture and then transfer the mixture to the pie dish. Do not compact or press the rice, but do distribute it evenly.
  • Drizzle the melted butter over the rice mixture.
  • Tightly cover the pie dish with foil and bake for 1 hour covered.

While it bakes, clean up and prepare

  • Chop the parsley and reserve for serving.
  • Chop the pistachios and reserve for serving.
  • Slice the lemon into wedges for personal squeezing.

After baking for 1 hour

  • Remove the foil and then uncovered, bake for an additional 10 minutes until the bottom is golden brown.
  • Remove from the oven and rest for about 5 minutes.
  • Run a knife or spatula around the edge to loosen the rice from the pie plate, then invert onto a serving plate.
  • Sprinkle with the parsley and pistachios and serve with the lemon wedges on the side.

Weeknotes: September 19, 2022

  • My mom, Susan, Sue, passed away at her home last Tuesday morning. Her wishes were that people recognize her life through donations to the Santa Barbara Food Bank and Save the Children. My brother and I are figuring out everything else; email me at [email protected] if you’d like to stay updated.
  • Having spent the last 5 weeks with my mom, her doctors’ ongoing prognoses that she “has days” was incorrect for quite a while until it wasn’t. We got to the zoo and the Botanic Gardens together. I enjoyed flustering the hospice nurse over the phone by passing along their questions directly, like “hey mom, how are your bowels?” and the nurse’s response of “oh, oh, I didn’t realize she was awake”. To her doctor’s surprise the day before she passed, what would be my mom’s last meal: taquitos.
  • I learned the stories behind all the butts in my mom’s nude paintings. And that, though my mom wouldn’t have the opportunity to exercise it, California has an End of Life Option.
  • I’m grateful for my family, friends, and colleagues who have been gracious and supportive. Both to those I’ve told, and those who are yet to find out. Thank you.
  • I wrote this biography as part of a family history for Mr. Harris’s 10th grade humanities class in 1999 (“fabulous photos, good layout! A”)

    Born in 1947 (though when interviewed maintained it was 1964), and grew up in the era of McCarthyism, bomb shelters, Elvis, Sputnik, Rock and Roll, and the Beatles. That got her through high school. Then she finished the sixties with a bachelors in painting from California College of the Arts and her masters in Library Science at UC Berkeley. Her first library job was in charge of the Art and Architecture collection at San Jose State. She met my father in Library school and got married in 1971. She quit her job to get married and moved to Alaska where she was in charge of the largest medical library in State of Alaska. She did that for two years and then they moved to Ithaca New York, where she was a library outreach consultant for a five county public library system. At the end of that period she had my brother, and moved to California. I was born four years after, and later she became very active in the Friends of the Poway Library, working on getting a new library in Poway. After divorcing she drew on her experiences as a volunteer and paid substitute in school libraries and decided to become a school librarian which necessitated getting both a teaching credential and a library media teachers credential, which she will finish next year.


Reflections on Brompt, 2022

In response to a r/advancedentrepreneur thread, I wrote up some reflections on Brompt in response to “How well did this project do?”:

Not well. I dunno how much help this is, but my thoughts about the experience are:

People who are already inconsistently posting likely aren’t searching for a solution. It would be better to target overachievers who want to get to the next level, than lift up underachievers to just ok. Nagging people doesn’t work on it’s own.

I think “post daily/regularly” isn’t much of a goal. I think it would be better to tap into the actual outcome they want (“top influencer”, “alternative income stream”) and then help pave that path within your service, of which regularly posting is just one “goal” or step on the staircase.

I originally built Brompt back in the mid 2000s when it was a lot easier to attract early adopters. I never monetized it (it was a hobby project that I used in my portfolio to further my regular career). If I was doing it over again, I’d have never built it and probably would have focused on figuring out acquisition (e.g. spend a couple hundred bucks on Facebook ads; focus on a hands-on concierge service, figure out what it is at the intersection of what people are searching to do and are willing to pay for).

Also, the space is incredibly saturated and it’s tough to get visibility. I’ve used Crowdfire before (i found it extremely difficult to use). Also done a lot with Priceonomics model. And there are some other Twitter tools that I wanted to highlight for you… but I literally can’t remember their name and have spent a good 30 minutes trying to Google and can’t find them. So like, that’s not a good environment to build in.

Edit: it was https://ilo.so/

I read "Object Thinking" by David West

| Review | ★★★★

I’m looking for a book that helps align the practice of software development with the rest of my life, In the sense of a humanistic neural plasticity, an approach that harmonizes rather than hegemonizes (or ignores) the rest of my life.

This book is based on the following beliefs:

  • Agility, especially in the form of extreme programming, is essential if the software development profession, and industry, are to improve themselves.
  • XP offers a way to create “better developers” to improve the intrinsic abilities of human beings to develop software for use by other human beings—a way to produce “master” developers.
  • XP cannot be understood, and those practicing XP will not realize the full potential of the approach, until they understand object thinking and the shared historical and philosophical roots of both object thinking and XP core values and practices.
  • In particular, programmers and technical developers will fail to realize the full potential of XP-based development without a thorough understanding of object orientation—the “object thinking” promised by the title of this book.

I initially found this book searching for “Sapir-Whorf” on the O’Reilly Bookshelf. To the extent that it approaches things humanistically, this is it:

Inheritance: Humans naturally aggregate similar things into sets (or classes). Another “natural” kind of thinking is to create taxonomies—hierarchical relationships among the sets.

Responsibility: If an object states that it is capable of providing a given service, it should perform that service in all circumstances, and the results should be consistent… Responsibility implies that an object must assume control of itself.

This wasn’t quite the book I wanted, though I enjoyed the introduction and the conclusion. The middle was a bunch of methodology that, well, was fine, but I probably won’t think about again; the conclusion does admit that the methodology and modeling section is written primarily as legitimating material for academic formalists and can be transcended and discarded. So that’s cool (but I would have appreciated that being said upfront than afterwards).

  • All methods are someone else’s idea about what you should do when you develop software. It may be useful, from time to time, to borrow from those ideas and integrate them into your own style. It is essential, however, to transcend any method, even your own idiosyncratic method, and “just do it.”
  • Software development is like riding a surfboard—there is no process that will assure a successful ride, nor is there any process that will assure that you will interact propitiously with the other surfers sharing the same wave. Published processes, like published methods, provide observational data from which you can learn and thereby improve your innate abilities—just as observation of master surfers enables you to improve yourself.
  • No model has any value other than to assist in object thinking and to provide a means for interpersonal communication. If you can model your objects and your scenarios in your head while engaged in writing code, and if those mental models are consistent with object thinking, great! No need to write them down. If you and your colleagues use a visual model on a whiteboard as an aid in talking about scenarios and in clarifying your collective thinking about those scenarios, and you erase the board when you’re done meeting, also great! If your models are crudely drawn and use only a subset of the syntax defined here (or a completely different syntax that you and your colleagues collectively agree upon), still great! Model when you must, what you must, and only what you must.

Here’s the good stuff, though it doesn’t have much of a developmental model:

  • Decompose the problem space into behavioral objects, and make sure the behaviors assigned to those objects are consistent with user expectations. This requires understanding why users make distinctions among objects and the illusions they project on those objects. User illusions (following Alan Kay) consist of how people recognize different objects in their world and, having recognized an object, what assumptions are made about how to interact with that object and what its responses will be.
  • User illusions should be maintained; your software objects should not violate them unless you can construct a plausible alternative story that shows a different set of domain entities interacting in different ways or having different capabilities. Business reengineering involves exactly this kind of activity—using domain language and user illusions creatively to craft new stories, some of which might lead to new software.
  • Decompose your problems (applications) in terms of conversations among groups of objects. Everything of interest in the domain is currently accomplished by groups of objects (people and things). Any artifact you construct must participate in a natural way in these same groups. Perhaps your artifact is simply replacing an existing object in the domain with a computer-based simulacrum, in which case it must know how to respond to and supply some relevant subset of recognizable and intuitive interaction cues. Perhaps it is an entirely new object, in which case it will need to be “socialized” to conform to the existing community.

Weeknotes: Aug 29, 2022

  • My mom entered hospice this past weekend. Medicare’s hospice benefits are pretty great, given the circumstances; American healthcare gets progressively better til you die. My mom has a story of her mom, in the 1990s, unsuccesfully convincing my mom of the benefits of single-payer healthcare. My mom says it took until herself going on Medicare to understand. With hospice, you call your caseworker and say “Can the nurse please bring over some blue chux next time?” and that’s all.
  • Angelina and I had originally planned to attend a big family trip to Germany and Amsterdam; we are in Santa Barbara, the American Riveria, instead. YMCA membership portability is the best.
  • I think many shared human experiences are of long boredom punctuated by short excitement or terror. Per the former, I finally added on-site search with lunr.js to this blog; no more Google.
  • I’m currently reading Moral Mazes. From my personal experience reading Bad Blood and Super Pumped, and starting yet not finishing a whole bunch of other non-fiction: I can only handle terrible business books that have no thesis or advice other than gratitude for not being there. I have a bunch of other book reviews to catch up on.

Still only myself

Two quotes about the experience of life. The first from NYT’s Magazine “I’ve Always Struggled With My Weight. Losing It Didn’t Mean Winning. “

Suddenly, I was slim. It was, by any measure, an incredible weight-loss success story. Even my great friend Alan texted about how good I looked. (“Did I say that?” he wrote, with a facepalm emoji, when I reminded him of the time he squeezed my love handles. “Sam, I was very inappropriate. But I still think it’s funny.”) I had achieved the great transformation — I had turned myself into the “AFTER” photo.

And now that we have that out of the way, I can tell you what I consider the most interesting thing about my weight-loss journey, a secret that you will never see in any banner ad. As the months passed, as I stuck with my healthful habits and got used to my new trim body, as the line on my Noom weight graph stayed low, I felt something amazing: I felt pretty much exactly as I had always felt my whole entire life. I was, after all that change, still only myself. My big epiphany, if I could put it into words, would be something like: “So what?”

And the second from Gawker’s ‘Failure to cope “Under capitalism”’ (newlines added by me for emphasis):

[Anne Helen] Petersen’s most acute insight is perhaps in identifying a link between relentlessly optimized childhoods designed to prevent downward mobility, and the professionally competent but profoundly enervated millennials overwhelmed by the prospect of canceling plans, of keeping plans, of cooking food, of texting their mothers. I think she is correct.

I think it’s possible that for many, considering the shape of your life and then living it with vigor is so difficult because it cannot be externally validated. Unlike education and work, it offers no socially obvious meritocratic path. The moments where, like sourdough, it proves, are largely invisible — in cooking, in walking, corresponding with a friend, in chatting with a neighbor or registering to give blood. They cannot be tallied up and put on a resume. They are never “finished.” The progress you make is spiraling rather than linear; circling steadily, slowly, around your weak points, taking two steps forward and one step back, building habits so slowly that only in retrospect can you see your life become different than it was. And there is no one who can tell you that you did it right.

But this is not the condition of life under capitalism, this is life itself. And it is a sad irony that though the fear of life may be produced by class imperatives within capitalism, the impulse to restrict it to a problem of capitalism is itself part of the same fearful rejection of the task of living.

Which also reminds me of an aside from a Bruno book, whose authorship is an American author writing about contemporary Southern France, that the French are tryhards even when contributing to a weekly dinner at home with their friends.