What about Social Media is bad?

Everything, some might say. But such barbs might not help identify and address the core issue.

For the past few days, I have read a lot of posts where people describe why they are quitting social media — Facebook, Instagram, and the peskiest of all, Twitter; I empathise with the stories they are narrating. The wasted hours or the effects of doom-scrolling or an overall sense of negativity, helplessness. Colin Devroe describes well how these platforms have affected his ability to focus.

[W]hen I’m still, when I’m idle, when I feel like I could be bored at any moment I grab my phone and scroll through Twitter which sends my mind into overdrive on a million topics, timelines, thoughts, and emotions.

I get all of that. But my train of thoughts takes a slightly different turn, and I am left pondering what exactly do I find problematic about social media platforms.

Is it the timeline? If that’s the case, why is YouTube a concern? Is it the recommendations feed? If that’s the case, why is the chronological timeline on Twitter still pesky? Is it the trends? Well, why is the curated Instagram an issue? None of these is problematic in isolation. The effect that all of them put together have on me is the concern.

Passive consumption hurts me more

I have realised that social media platforms lead users towards passive consumption. They benefit from their ability to make meaningless interactions pleasing. Or at least engaging. All the concerns I have stem from this “user-engagement-at-all-cost” business practice. Irrespective of how pleasing this interaction feels in the moment, it leaves me furious for the time wasted.

Twitter timeline is prone to do that. YouTube homepage does that, and so does their recommendation engine. Instagram, Facebook feeds do that. For me, even the Reddit forums tend to do that. Debatable, but Podcasts do that too. And to top it all, my smartphone does this to the worst effect.

In short, meaningless interactions with any service or device is a problem. Passive consumption it leads to leaves me exhausted, feeling shit.

That is why a community like Micro.blog is not generally on such lists. The timeline component of Micro.blog, even though Manton has designed it to be different from Twitter and its ilk, is social media. But given the nature of the community, the interactions tend to inspire me to create, to act. Be opposite of passive. Even then, the timeline on my smartphone still causes me to waste time. It makes me pull down incessantly, subconsciously, and refresh. To check for more posts to interact with. The pull-down-to-refresh has to be the most unhealthy use of our thumbs.

I had this issue identified some time back. It quit the social media that was useless to me, Facebook. I put control on those I use, Micro.blog and Twitter. It is their hunger to make me mindlessly scroll that I had to stifle. Most often, they do that via their apps on my smartphones. So, they don’t get space on my phone anymore. I access all the timelines on my computer. I follow the RSS feeds for many blogs to avoid visiting the timelines frequently.

Not a problem for all

That said, I don’t judge others who continue to benefit from social media platforms. Get happiness out of using some or all of them. What’s hollow for me might be meaningful for them. This thought was one of the reasons I didn’t post when I quit social media for the first time. I wanted to avoid sounding preachy. Plus, the resolve to not use the platforms at all didn’t last for long anyway. I share the dilemma that Cheri puts down in her brilliant essay aptly named No Social Media Club.

My feelings are true to me, but I don’t want others to feel judged for what they choose to do. There was a time when our messier feelings were shared in certain contexts. At home. With family. With friends. With a therapist. Not online. Not like this. Not where someone who recently shared a donut photo might feel momentarily stung by my essay. You see my dilemma, no? What is currently truth for me might be a hurtful barb to someone else.

Absolutely. I am no one to judge other people’s choices. In response, they might judge me for such posts I write on my blog that I have no clue if anyone is reading at all. I have no likes or re-shares to show for them. I do this because I get clarity, happiness out of writing this, sharing this. As they say, you do you.

In short, in the strictest sense, I am not “quitting” social media. It’s not the platforms in themselves that I have a problem with. Any interaction that leads me to consume meaninglessly, passively or makes me feel shit is what I am quitting.

Doing what you love

“Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life,” goes a mantra for success – an adage that is unfortunately overrated, though. A person can’t always do what she loves to do. Rather, there are very few fortunate folks who do just what they want to do in their life. An extension to that adage is love what you do. Well, nor can one always love what she does. Rather, most folks hate what they do. They do it because they have to do it.

“Passion is the genesis of genius,” says Tony Robbins. Aha, that is precisely the reason we aren’t surrounded by geniuses. The majority of us are stuck doing something for which we have no passion.

That is such a cynical attitude, you say? Sure. But, it also is the reality of our world. Should we then give up? Far from that, actually. What one should do is to find out why they are doing what they are doing. For some, it might be the money. Or a sense of comfort. For many, it might be the best among the available options. Find peace with what you do. That is the first step to reach a phase in your life when you can do what you love to do.

There is also the fact that what you love can very well be temporary. It takes time to find your passion. What you think is your passion may very well be a fleeting interest. As Derek Sivers reminds us, we can’t always depend on our current opinions.

(Our) former self is not always right. We shouldn’t preserve our first opinions as if they reflect our pure, untarnished, true nature. They’re often just the result of inexperience or a temporary phase. Old opinions shouldn’t define who we are in the future.

It is the contentedness, though passing, that matters the most. Do what makes you feel contented, what gives you a good night’s sleep.

That said, there is, of course, another way. Stick to what you are passionate about. Switch paths when your passion changes. There will be hardships because doing what you think you love is not easy. But being satisfied never is. Be firm, stay strong.

So, which way do you prefer?

Fortunate that I am writing this

Since my niece was born on this day three years ago today, the new year celebrations have been quite unfamiliar for us. The whole world celebrates along with us as she grows a year old, every year. Or so we have convinced her and her parents. This year is no different, albeit a tad muted. But still, the folks all-around plan to celebrate.

Knowing how all my plans for 2020 were mercilessly crushed by the pandemic, I had no expectations from 2021. I knew it was going to be more of the same dreadful cycle of panic, despair, and hope. At the same time, I also wished I and all my dear ones sail through, see the end of the year.

As I sit here today, looking at the year gone by, all I can do is smile. It began with a phase as dark as my family had ever seen. But it brought us all close, gave us the courage to stay strong. We got back on our feet, stronger. We learned to live with the virus, masked whenever outside. Vaccinating ourselves. Slowly, gradually, we wandered, unhesitant, outside our homes. Each one of us established our own new rules, routines, and traditions around travel.

We met our friends, got nostalgic for the days that we had left behind. We got hungry, got drunk and laughed our hearts out. I witness my office welcome my colleagues, the floors, and pantries reverberating with grumbles again.

I am fortunate I could do all of that. And a lot more. That I watch my crazy friends share their plans for celebrations with booze and snacks. That I would watch the skies light up with fireworks one more time. I am fortunate that I am about to get ready and join my family to celebrate my niece growing older by another year.

And if you are reading this, know that, in one way or the other, you are too. Just look back and find out why.

Resilience. And kismet. The two words I would remember 2021 by. Wish you a happy new year, you all!


Artwork by David Wirzba on Unsplash

Managing unreasonable expectations from time

Why is it so tiring to stay positive? Or to keep oneself motivated at times? It happens more so when I expect a lot in return from the time at hand. Why do I do that? A reminder to self. Time is not something I have. Time is something I am. Burdening it with unreasonable expectations is not fruitful. Anyway, there is no limit to our expectations from time.

If we manage to be productive for an hour, we still haven’t done enough as against what we would have in a couple of hours.

If we publish a post, we still haven’t participated in a social community we are part of. If we finish reading a book, we still haven’t read those newsletters or RSS feeds.

If we complete a task list at the office pending for weeks, we still haven’t spent enough time with our child. And the list goes on and on.

To everything that we do, there is always something we haven’t. Time is like a balancing scale. When balanced, more things are not on it than there are. To add anything to such a scale, we need to remove something first. The heavier the thing we put in, the more we extract.

We are balancing our time day in, day out. Acknowledging that we can’t do it all on a given day, we have to let a few things off our schedule for later. Why, then, ruin our days with something we didn’t do rather than celebrate it for something we did?

Sydney Didn’t Welcome Me With Open Arms

Flicking through the channels on a TV set, I tried to rid my mind of all the homesick thoughts. Having checked in an hour ago in this plush Sydney hotel, I was sitting idle, feeling lonely. It was just a couple of years into my job, and this was my first visit to the country for an assignment. Though I was full of excitement for the new country, new city, my stomach was craving for some food now. Any food.

Excitement is for the unknown future. Even fear is for that unseen that lies ahead. Hunger is for real in the present, though. And I was fricking hungry.

It was an early Sunday evening, and it wasn’t time for dinner yet. But my body clock hadn’t adjusted itself to the timezone yet. It was lunchtime at my place home, and my body wanted food. Local time be damned.

Where I had checked in, they didn’t serve any food, either. Weird. The place wasn’t just a room but was a studio apartment with a bedroom and a compact kitchen in a corner of the living room. Why call this a kitchen and not a living room with a stove? My hunger was talking now.

Plus, there was nothing of interest for me on the television. It was playing terrible, poorly made advertisements and news shows where hosts chattered amongst themselves. Back home, I would find at least a dozen movies or sports channels by now. My first impression of Aussies’ choice of entertainment wasn’t positive. Why call this television and not just a list of numbers 1, 7, 9? That number song would be more fun than this. My hunger was getting grumpy.

I scavenged for anything that resembled food in the kitchen, but all it had was empty utensils. I gave up. I wanted to go outside now, but I was petrified deep down.

It was 2009, a period with abounding reports of racially motivated crime against Indians in Australia. My family back home was already against my travel. But my excitement didn’t let me care then. Nevertheless, I was slightly worried now. It’s a weekend evening in the big city, you moron. What can go wrong? My hunger was absolutely pissed. I locked the room and stepped outside the hotel.

It had rained while I was driving from the Airport. The cover of clouds overhead made the evening appear darker than it was. For a Sunday evening, the wet street in the centre of Sydney was pretty deserted. Except for a couple of taxis plying along, there was hardly any person in the vicinity. There was a faint sound of the party music from a pub nearby. The crowd, though, wasn’t visible.

I stood uncertain at the entrance gate, unable to decide what to do next. I badly wanted to eat something, but I preferred not to walk onto a dozy street in this foreign land either. With my stomach grumbling again, I decided to take a walk around the corner to look for an eatery serving something.

With most of the shops closed, I took a turn towards what looked like a road going to a busy street. These were the pre-maps days — iPhones hadn’t made smartphones everyday devices yet. You couldn’t type in “food” on your smartphone and toddle along to the place. I felt it would be better not to talk to any strangers – there weren’t many around me anyway.

The faint party noise I had heard earlier was getting closer. I paused again at the turn, contemplating whether to stroll further into the darkness. An unearthly yell decided for me. There was a jeep on the road ahead surrounded by five or six young boys chatting. Even in the dark, I could feel they were looking, laughing at me. I couldn’t see or hear them clearly, but I knew they were yelling something. And then someone from the group flicked a finger and laughed out loud again. This can’t be happening, a stunning fear overcame my hunger.

As I quickly started walking back to the hotel, I could still hear guffaws behind me. I have never dashed off a street, into the lift and back to my room so quickly. To this day, I don’t know whether the jeering was pointed at me. Was I just being unnecessarily paranoid? Had the news reports impacted my sense of judgement? I had no intention to find out.

In that fleeting moment of uncertain fear, the loneliness and alienness widened their hold over me. More than food, it was my homeland that I craved for now. I sat on the couch panting heavily, tears wailing down my cheeks. The darkness around me engulfed them. I wanted to talk to someone, but I had neither the courage nor the means to do that.

I did have my dinner that day once I gathered the courage to stumble onto the street again and go the other way. I found a small eatery serving Chinese food, and I had some food parcelled.

Back in the apartment and with cutlery around the stove in my hands, I gulped the blandest noodles I have ever tasted in my life. For my terrified mind and eyes crowded with tears, it was a scrumptious course of a meal.

Postscript

This essay is another personal story from the series that I intend to share as the issues of my newsletter. The artwork above is by Ivan Tsaregorodtsev on Unsplash. Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I would love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit

Travelling, but not as a tourist

Every time the grinds of the daily life take toll over me, I travel to a place close by with my family and friends. The last weekend was another such occasion.

I love this place not because it is a perfect family getaway (that it is), but because it is easy to travel to, and so there is not too much planning needed. Most trips get burdensome by the sheer pain of planning so much, so ahead of time. I enjoy the travels where that’s not the case, especially when I have no interest to be a typical tourist and go spot hunting.

The purpose of one’s visit is what matters at the end. If it is to find out everything of interest in a place, sure, go sign up for a hectic few days. Even I do that at times. But, why do that when irrespective of how much you roam around, you can never cover all the interesting places, anyway? The tourists flocking around an attraction kills it for me. It is just a place of business. I prefer the turn en route where no one halts. Or the point which hasn’t got any fancy name yet.

Anyway, I know every nook and corner of this resort I stayed in. My family and I have visited every spot of interest in the place, and so can selectively just visit those that affect us. We did just that this time, too. Maybe, I am different. I am glad that my family is just like me. Crazy different “tourists” that travel for the experience, not with a checklist!

Here are a couple of more pictures from the relaxing trip.

Day I Panicked in a Pool

On a scorching Sunday morning, an eight-year-old me is thrilled again to wear my new swimming gear. My parents have signed me up for swimming class, which I was habitually against at the beginning. I like water, but I don’t when I have to fight it. Almost a week since the classes started now, I enjoy this time.

I hear the muffled voices of my trainer, Mr Das, through my swim cap as I try to follow his instructions. He is showing us a group of children the effect of kicking the water to stay afloat. On the sixth day today, we are still holding on to the edge, flattening our bodies and just kicking the heck out of the water.

“Not so hard, be gentle with those kicks,” I hear Mr Das shout. Most of us kids haven’t learnt how to be gentle with anything. We are having fun with water, splashing it as hard as we can.

I see my dad sitting outside the pool with the other parents. They are talking, laughing, being friendly strangers to each other. Bored with all the kicking now, I want to swim in the deep pool.

I am the typical obedient guy who doesn’t do anything he is told not to. But, today, I try. As I release my hold, hands still floating just above the edge, the kicking legs start pulling me backwards. I try to hold on, but my hands slip. I see I am floating away from the safety of something to hold on to. Panicked, I stop kicking and open my mouth to shout for help. I feel the chlorinated water in my nostrils and my throat. “This is not working. I am going to die,” I hear myself say. My eyes are watery. I know they are tears, but I am not sure if anyone else does.

And then suddenly, I feel a hand hold my body from below and carry me closer to the edge. Mr Das has handled many such curious kids over his career. He puts me closer to the edge and shouts, “hold that edge tight and start kicking.”

I am safe, and I can breathe again. I look towards my dad. Oh, he is oblivious of all that I just went through. I still feel the taste and smell of chlorine. Feeling terrible, I kick harder than usual.

That is when the smell of chlorine hits me again, and things start to become hazy. I look towards my dad. He and his friends are still prattling. But I see an urgency in the staff around the swimming deck. In the pool, around me, all the kids are loosening their holds off the edges. “Don’t do that,” I try to warn them. I don’t think they hear me. Even I do not hear myself. What is going on? I see myself float away from the edge now, water very close to my mouth and nostrils. I try to hold my breath, but I need to cough. I panic again. Angsty, I move every part of my body. My eyes search for Mr Das, I don’t see him around.

My movements slow down suddenly. The commotion around is dying. The voices getting fainter, my vision dreamier. I still feel there is water all around me. I am not feeling right. At this most unfortunate time, everything goes dark. No vision. No sound. An eerie silence. I am dead, I hear myself say.

But, I hear the faint voices again now. I try to open my eyes, the hazy chaos comes into focus. I am lying on a lawn, with strangers running helter-skelter. Other kids are lying around me, motionless. A lady I don’t know is trying to feed me glucose biscuits and milk. I feel it would be better not to put anything down my throat. I am already sick, my dad would know. But I can’t see him. I feel alone, naked. I try to shout for him, but my voice echoes within me. As the chaos around goes faint, I pass out again.

I wake up another time. We are in an ambulance this time. Now, I do see the face of my dad. He didn’t swim, but his eyes are still watery. With those pained yet resolute eyes, he is holding on to my hand tight. I don’t feel naked anymore. Amidst all the turmoil around, I pass out for the third time.

I open my eyes again, I am feeling light now. I find myself in the waiting area of a hospital. My dad is still around me. Though I am lying comfortably on a bench, he is holding my hand very tight. As if he doesn’t want me to get harmed by an impalpable danger. The kid in me doesn’t know it then, but I know now that he blames himself for the event when he feels he almost lost me.

“I don’t want to go near a swimming pool ever, dad,” I say to him in a weakened voice. He looks me in the eye, brushes my hair and responds, “I will never leave you alone, my son. Ever.” The two are entirely differing feelings. But I know his promise will govern my life experiences, at least my teenage phase. I never climbed down into a swimming pool until I lived with my dad. He never sent me to any place where he could not be with me. For the better part of my youth, both held on to the resolves we took that day.

Eventually, I did learn to swim the way most of the folks in rural parts of India do. I kept jumping into the water bodies until one day, I had picked up how not to drown. For me, the water body was the swimming pool, and I learnt to stay afloat only as a young adult. But that eventful day of the chlorine leak birthed an overprotective dad, for whom the safety of his child became paramount.


Postscript

This essay is the first personal story from the series that I intend to share as the issues of my newsletter. Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I would love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit

Lazy Defaults

I feel I have been struggling to find quiet time to read and write recently. I can blame it on many things, but I know within that I am to blame for this feeling. When I get time, I waste it. I convince myself that I need to relax first to get in the groove before I can write or read. I have been relaxing for a few weeks now, and it has only made me more tired.

This leaves me frustrated. Lazy consumption of other’s work is meaningless if it does not trigger any thought. I do that the most these days. I read, but I do not think. I write, but they are shallow thoughts. When do I spend time to churn a few ideas? To word them into something profound? You should write what feels right, I understand. But if it is only the deserts you chomp on, you won’t feel satiated after a point.

I need action, both to my mind and my body. Isn’t it curious that long phases of inactiveness can slowly wear them down? Both readily slide back to their lazy defaults. I need to be strong to push back and to make them move their asses.

Without that, what I have is a dull mind and a couch-clinging body.

Goodbyes Are Hard

Hello Friend,

When I published the first issue of this newsletter, I had no clue I would do that 20 times over the last fifteen months. I had started writing it with a hope that each issue brings some value to a few writers. Sure, the format did change a couple of times. I decided to make it more personal along the way. But I continued to curate links to some of the most wonderful essays I came across. My intension was to inspire the writer within you.

That's 60 brilliant essays found and shared since that first issue. I have been happy with the journey till now. Greg Anderson reminds me of why that is important.

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.

Yes, I have enjoyed writing every issue.  Sometimes it was the letter I was writing to you that I was excited about. Other times, it was the attachment to an essay I was sharing that mattered to me. Whatever the case, I was excited about every issue that I sent to you.

But that hasn't been the case recently. Sure, I continue to enjoy writing on my blog – as I had said in one of the recent posts, "writing something, anything, makes me focused. It calms me down." So, it's not the process of writing that I have stopped enjoying. It is the format that, I have realized, I can't give justice to any more.

"If you don't want to do it now, you don't want to do it at all. Let it go," suggests Derek Sivers in his brilliant new book "How to Live".

So, here I am letting this go. This is the last issue for the newsletter Slanting Nib & A Keyboard. I hope you enjoyed reading the issues as much as I did writing them.

What does it mean for the subscribers? Well, first off, I will stop sending you any more letters to you, even if you continue to stay signed up. I prefer not to break your trust. You had signed up for something which I no longer intend to deliver.

With that said, this place Slanting Nib will continue to stay active. As I said earlier, I still love writing. I will post a few stories that are closest to my heart.

So, if you wish to receive these stories from me via mails, please drop me a note. Just hit reply, or email me. I would be glad to send you my personal stories, with a promise of not doing so more than once a week.

Thank you for subscribing and reading my newsletter. Goodbye for now!

Artwork by Leon Seibert on Unsplash

-Amit

Why Do I Write?

Don’t write for others, write for yourself. Most long-time writers give this advice to someone who is just getting started. Actually, screw that. Every person who does any amount (and form) of writing gives this advice to every other person who wishes to do some form of writing.

Easy advice for others, but very difficult to follow oneself. To be frank, what does “not to write for others” even mean? Or write only for yourself?

I write when my mind blanks out. I write when my mind gets crowded. Most of the time, I write as I comment on something I read or listened to. At times, a thought makes me go, “Hmm, that’s curious. I should write more about it.” Occasionally, I write because I want to force myself to write.

Writing something, anything, makes me focused. It calms me down. “I write because I have an innate need to write,” says Orhan Pamuk. More often than not, I share his sentiment.

But I am not perfect. I also write because I want others to read my writing. Trigger a conversation. Read what others think about my thoughts. As an introvert, that’s my only way to open up to others. I don’t care how many people read what I write. As long as I know that some do.

Numbers don’t matter to me. Conversations do.

On a philosophical level, everybody understands this belief of “not writing for others”. Write what your mind wants you to write, don’t write what others want you to.

You write because your thoughts are important. You write because you are brave and willing to expose those thoughts. But, most importantly, you write because you have something to say.

A fascinating perspective. It is worded succinctly, but it still is philosophical. Everybody has something to say. But not everybody writes. So, what motivates you to put your thoughts in words?

Fillers Don’t Define a Book

Hello Friend,

After reading my fair share of self-help books recently, I have realized that they all follow a pattern. They start with a brilliant, unique idea. The first few chapters present the core in the most masterly manner and back it up with intriguing research and anecdotes. The author wants to answer one key question, why all readers should listen to what she says.

This part of the self-help books, especially those around psychology, gets a firm grasp on my interest. I usually note what amuses me about the central premise and the structure that the writer has put forth thoroughly. And then the book hits a damper.

Though the initial chapters always pique my interest, the subsequent chapters are most tiring to read through. They are generally fillers, present just to elevate the central idea into a book.

This hack of chasing fillers taints most of the self-help books published today. To avoid that, the author needs to be an absolute master at what she is talking about. She needs to know a lot more than she is willing to include in the book, a rarity among authors of self-help books. They generally start as a blog post, evolve and expand after numerous interactions with friends and readers.

Another case when an author doesn’t chase the fillers is when she doesn't hesitate to give up on the conventional measures of completion and success. The author does not consider the number of pages or the quote-worthy phrases as her target – a case in point, most self-published authors.

The first is about confidence in one's prowess. The second one is about control on one's objective. Self-confidence and self-control allow a writer to eliminate the need to artificially puff up their work with unnecessary fillers. And this has an apt parallel in our real life too. If we have control over deciding what matters, discipline to pursue it and confidence to execute it, we need not surround our lives with fillers.

Avoid fillers in what you say or do. Be clear about your core and focus only on that. What do you believe in? Everything else that you undertake or achieve is just a filler — all it does is deviate you from what you should focus your time and energy on. What do you believe in? Everything else wastes the time of yours and others, just like a book full of fillers does for its writers and its readers.

The filler pages do not define a book, the same way the filler days do not define who we are. Our core defines us. So, ask yourself again — what is your core?


"The Radical Moral Implications of Luck in Human Life" by David Roberts

Allowing for luck can dent our self-conception. It can diminish our sense of control. It opens up all kinds of uncomfortable questions about obligations to other, less fortunate people. Nonetheless, this is a battle that cannot be bypassed. There can be no ceasefire. Individually, coming to terms with luck is the secular equivalent of religious awakening, the first step in building any coherent universalist moral perspective. Socially, acknowledging the role of luck lays a moral foundation for humane economic, housing, and carceral policy.

"Why Modern Life Feels Rather Undead" by Chuck Klosterman

Every zombie war is a war of attrition. It’s always a numbers game. And it’s more repetitive than complex. In other words, zombie killing is philosophically similar to reading and deleting 400 work e-mails on a Monday morning or filling out paperwork that only generates more paperwork, or following Twitter gossip out of obligation, or performing tedious tasks in which the only true risk is being consumed by the avalanche. The principal downside to any zombie attack is that the zombies will never stop coming; the principal downside to life is that you will be never be finished with whatever it is you do.

" The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn’t" by Steven Johnson

It has never been easier to start making money from creative work, for your passion to undertake that critical leap from pure hobby to part-time income source. Write a novel or record an album, and you can get it online and available for purchase right away, without persuading an editor or an A&R executive that your work is commercially viable. From the consumer’s perspective, blurring the boundaries has an obvious benefit: It widens the pool of potential talent. But it also has an important social merit. Widening the pool means that more people are earning income by doing what they love.

Postscript

I also write long-form essays by choice, which I publish along with the issues of this newsletter. I can email you these essays as well if you are interested. Just let me know. Or you could, of course, subscribe to the good old RSS feed.

I want to recommend below my essays and videos to you, published since I delivered the previous issue of the newsletter.

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I would love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit

Interesting, but I Don't Have Time for You

Over the years, I have realized that my mind is a pool of copious ideas from varied fields. It is like an open pond, extremely prone to ripples from externalities, big and small. There was a time when I picked every idea up and started working on it. I would spend weeks on these side projects. Soon, there would be a new one vying for my attention and I would hop onto the new hustle.

I have begun and shuttered so many of such side projects that I have lost count of them now. Some new platforms that solved no new problem for me. An open-source utility which I understood nothing of, except for the fact that its source was open. A self-hosted service that I had no use for. And the list goes on and on.

My fascination towards such unending projects affected me in many ways. The most troubling of them was that I had no time to pause and listen to my thoughts. I lent myself no time to not be busy, to slack. Here's Shane Parrish reiterating the importance of slack to be productive in our lives (as defined by Tom DeMarco in his book Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency).

Many of us have come to expect work to involve no slack time because of the negative way we perceive it. In a world of manic efficiency, slack often comes across as laziness or a lack of initiative. Without slack time, however, we know we won’t be able to get through new tasks straight away, and if someone insists we should, we have to drop whatever we were previously doing.

That is precisely the state I found myself in. I was too welcoming, with my arms spread, ready to embrace anything and everything that got recommended to me. Even a mention of such a topic, and I was all ears.

I no longer do that. Anytime I am faced with such a ripple now, I take a deep breath, blink and calmly say, "no, I do not have time for you. You, even though curious, are not my priority."

Priority is an important word that governs how we lead our life. I recently learnt that when the term "priority" was coined (somewhere in the 1300s), it was singular. It stayed that way for ages. Decades. Centuries. It was only in the 20th century that we, new age humans, muddled the meaning of the term.

By definition, "priority" means "the quality of being prior". The prior one. Basically, the stuff of priority is one thing that should get all your attention.

Then we changed the meaning of being efficient. Doing things as a group, per the plan, within time mattered no more. Each individual had to be manifolds more productive, pick up more things to do in parallel. And in our quest to do more in parallel at all costs, we introduced the plural form of the term "priority". We started thinking about those 2 or 4 or 10 things that we could divide our attention among. We assigned numbers to them. "This is priority 1. This is a P2 item."

Think about it - the usage of the words "topmost priority" itself is so redundant. If you call something a priority, it should get your special attention. It should be the thing of the highest importance.

I have realized the hard way that more often than not, doing less is doing more. When I am not doing many things at the same time, my attention is not spread too thin. Being busy and being productive are two different things. David Perell puts it nicely, contrasting these two distinctive states of mind.

Our best ideas rarely come alive in busyness. They spring to life in calm and aimless contemplation. In beer mode, you find inspiration. And in coffee mode, you harvest that inspiration.

The choice of words "calms and aimless contemplation" is so brilliant. That's what saying "no" to most instinctive side hustles, not always staying busy, allows me time for. I calmly sit idle for hours at times, contemplating on stuff that I read, hear and see. I take notes, jot down thoughts to elaborate on later.

Here's Parrish again, reminding us of the drawbacks of being constantly busy.

Being comfortable with sometimes being 0 percent busy means we think about whether we’re doing the right thing. This is in contrast to grabbing the first task we see so no one thinks we’re lazy. The expectation of “constant busyness means efficiency” creates pressure to always look occupied and keep a buffer of work on hand.

Amen. Could I, then, do more if I didn't hold myself back and said "yes" to more things? Maybe. But then, more is not always better.


Cover Artwork by Ken Cheung on Unsplash

On Making Space for More

Hello Friend,

Over the last weekend, my wife and I decided to clean all the closets and drawers. Pretty soon, we extended the sphere to cover every nook and corner of our house. The idea was to go through each section of our home, find all the junk lying around unused, and get rid of it if it does not justify the space it occupies. In a way, I was working under the guidance of my wife - the most organized person in my eye. She is very particular about organizing stuff, and here is the process we had followed.

We selected a closet, took down all the contents, and then worked on them. We segregated them on multiple parameters – when was this last used, is that usage still applicable, is this here just for emotional value and so on. Then, we tagged and ordered them. Finally, we grouped them into containers whose sizes varied from small boxes to huge travel sacks.

As the sun was on its descent in the sky, we worked on an under-bed drawer. It was a massive unit - enough for a person to sleep comfortably, albeit breathlessly - but it had no compartments. So, naturally, the stuff was just spewed all around, making the whole drawer appear super untidy. Not that any of the items in there were soiled. Many were even untouched, unused. What the drawer was lacking was an arrangement of some kind. So, we got down to work. We grouped and stored the stuff into the large storage bag-cum-organizers that we had recently ordered just for this purpose. The difference that simple activity caused was immense. The drawer still contained the same things, but it didn't resemble the mess earlier.

As the night dawned, we breathed a satisfying sigh, proud of what we had achieved. The cabinets looked clean, and we made space in the whole home. I felt even the home must have breathed a huge sigh of relief - after all, we had relieved it of some burden.

The slight effort that we had put in to evaluate, dump, segregate and reorganize stuff in our home had made our abode look cleaner, spacious.

And you know what I realized? I do apply the same process we used to organize our home to my mind too. A slight effort I put in occasionally to evaluate, dump, segregate and reorganize my thoughts leads to a calmer and receptive mind. I dump the thoughts onto the pages of my diary, not trying to organize them in the process. I meditate as I evaluate the thoughts hovering around. Sure, sorting and reorganizing thoughts is not as easy as moving stuff to the storage bags. But to me, a form of bullet journaling helps organize the ideas.

This process of journaling and meditation is an act of housecleaning for my mind. It declutters it, makes it a lot less messy when I look inwards. At the same time, it frees it up to welcome more ideas. Just as it did recently to our home.

Anyway, here is the selection of three brilliant essays on life for this week.


"We Are All Confident Idiots" by David Dunning

Because it’s so easy to judge the idiocy of others, it may be sorely tempting to think this doesn’t apply to you. But the problem of unrecognized ignorance is one that visits us all. And over the years, I’ve become convinced of one key, overarching fact about the ignorant mind. One should not think of it as uninformed. Rather, one should think of it as misinformed.

An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge.

"My Failed Attempts to Hoard Anything at All" by David Sedaris

It helps to look at which shelves are bare. That teaches you, I suppose, what you should be hoarding. Most of the people I see in lines these days aren’t real cooks. I noticed at my neighborhood stores that all the canned spaghetti sauces were gone, the horrible ones that taste like ketchup, as well as the frozen pizzas and burritos—stuff we never eat. Toilet paper is gone, too, of course, as are paper towels.

"English Is Not Normal" by John McWhorter

To be fair, mongrel vocabularies are hardly uncommon worldwide, but English’s hybridity is high on the scale compared with most European languages. The previous sentence, for example, is a riot of words from Old English, Old Norse, French and Latin. Greek is another element: in an alternate universe, we would call photographs ‘lightwriting’. According to a fashion that reached its zenith in the 19th century, scientific things had to be given Greek names. Hence our undecipherable words for chemicals: why can’t we call monosodium glutamate ‘one-salt gluten acid’? It’s too late to ask. But this muttly vocabulary is one of the things that puts such a distance between English and its nearest linguistic neighbours.

Postscript

I have recently started writing more long-form essays by choice, which I publish along with the issues of this newsletter. You can receive even these essays via email if you are interested. Just let me know. Or you could, of course, subscribe to the good old RSS feed.

I have published the below essays since I delivered the last issue of the newsletter.

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I would love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit

Realistic Expectations and Notion of Control

As I was planning my recent move across the state, I was, deep within, also thinking about what I can expect from this. What would be the benefits of moving away from the current place? What could I do that I am not currently doing? How would my mornings be? Or my evenings? How would my work-life balance change?

However, I spent no time first acknowledging the state that the things I do not own or control would be in. In short, I was setting too many expectations for myself, signing up for the resultant heartbreak that would invariably cause. Why do I do that? Is it not easy to plan only for things that depend just on me? The things that I do control?

Resonating with the thoughts I was living through, Jason Becker had recently posted how it is frustrating that he could never meet the expectations he sets for himself.

How often am I angry, frustrated, and disappointed because my expectations could never be met, even if what happens is great? The expectations gap has an outsized impact on my experience. How do I get better at discovering realistic expectations without shortchanging myself?

Even I got curious. What are realistic expectations? Cheri Baker pointed him to an article by Gregory Sadler discussing the Stoic concept of the dichotomy of control.

It is an insightful read — what was most enlightening for me was reading about the concepts of control and power. Here is the relevant passage from Epictetus's Handbook (emphasis mine) that Gregory examines and talks about.

Some things are within our power (eph’ ēmin in the original Greek) while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.

I always knew that I should not let things outside my control affect me and my day-to-day life. And I always struggled with that — how can you stay aloof to what is happening around you? Why can't you control your behaviour? I realized after reading the essay, though, that there is a minor distinction between control and power.

Control is too strong a word. There are times when I (and possibly each one of us) get frustrated and quip that I control nothing. In short, I am neither able to decide nor influence the things happening around me.

It typically happens when I decide to wake up one fine day, get ready and spend the whole day with myself, reading and writing. But the morning jerks me up amidst complete chaos — things are broken around me, physically and mentally. The tap has suddenly started leaking. Or my kid or spouse do not share my enthusiasm for a beautiful day. Sure, I might still have a wonderful day. But stay saddened by the fact that the day turned out to be so different from what I had fancied.

So, what does one do? To think that nothing is in our control and not set any expectations is effortless, yet wrong. Furthermore, setting realistic expectations is a lot harder than it sounds. Whatever expectations you set for yourself, there is a slight probability that fate has other plans for you.

Gregory suggests that I should mould my thought process. Rather than thinking that I would not let things outside my control affect me, I should reason with myself on these lines.

I am responsible for, and should focus upon, the things that depend upon me, i.e. my beliefs, my decisions, and my character. These are the things that matter, which determine if I am a good or bad person, and If I live a happy or unhappy life. I not mistakenly think my happiness or value is determined by the things not ‘up to’ me.

Here is my takeaway. The only thing I should focus on is the thing that is up to me, my character. Don't give too much attention to the notion of control. It is not fruitful. Set the expectations, the plan. But be aware that things will not always work out as per the set plan. It is only natural to hold the feeling of frustrations and disappointment as a result. But then realize that these feelings are only temporary, find ways to stay calm amidst disappointment. And definitely, a way to not do that is finding the right expectations to set — there's no right way to do that.

I have found my ways to stay calm amidst the disappointments. I listen to my favourite music, I write in my diary, I meditate. At times, I simply get back to the work I love. All these acts calm me down. What are the actions that do the same for you?

Back to the Home

Hello Friend,

I have recently moved back to my permanent address — the place I have been calling home for the past ten years. It was precisely a year ago that I had shifted to my original hometown. My wife and I wanted to be closer to our parents in these uncertain times. Good that we did. We ploughed through some of the toughest times with the support of the extended family. The sheer burden of the unknown and uncertainty would have crushed the lonely and separated souls.

Even though the closeness to the family was welcoming, the place you call your home always lends innate warmth. You feel calm, at home, free of some strange burden. Possibly, it is because of the familiarity of the surroundings. Or maybe it is because you have fallen in love with your abode over the many years of togetherness. Whatever the reason, things generally feel right.

That has been the experience for me for the past week. The period when I was away from this place appears way back in history. Is it not spectacular that you can so easily get habituated to the change in your surroundings?

That said, the drive back was full of anxiety. The ride, itself, was  uneventful — instead, we welcomed the chance to spend a pleasant 12 hours on the road. It was the inside that was churning with thoughts. I was petrified, thinking about the state the home would be in. Would it be covered knee-deep in the dust? Or full of cobwebs? With pests running everywhere? The fear of the unknown was nibbling my heart within. Just the thought of the sheer work we may have to put in to make the place liveable made me uncomfortable.

As I unlocked the main door and stepped inside, I realized I was foolish to let these thoughts burden my mind. Of course. Our home is not somewhere in the wild, open for unruly animals to pry at. It is part of a gated community. No cockroaches or spiders were running around the house. The dust that I was so terrified of was barely visible. I could feel it was there. But cleaning that was far from the back-bending chore that I imagined it to be. The home was just the way we had left it, our own. Calm.

Anyway, the place is back to being our home again. Now, this is also a time to settle into a new routine. A change of setting calls for a change in the way I was leading my life for the past year. I have already got my mornings back — a familiar, peaceful morning is when I am writing this letter in. Now, it is time to handle the other phases of the day.

With that update out of the way, here is the selection of three brilliant essays on life for this week.


“The Capital T Truth” by David Foster Wallace

[I]t is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.

“Why Go Out?” by Sheila Heti

I’m always super-aware of how whenever I go out into the world, or whenever I get involved in a relationship, my idea of who I think I am utterly collides with the reality of who I actually am. And I continue to go out even though who I am always comes up short. I always prove myself to be less generous, less charming, less considerate, not as bold or energetic or intelligent or courageous as I imagined in my solitude. And I’m always being insulted, or snubbed, or disappointed.
And yet, in some way, maybe this is better. Each of us could suffer the pangs of withdrawal from other people and gain the serenity of the non-smoker. We could be demi-gods in our little castles, all alone, but perhaps, deep down, none of us really wants that. Maybe the only cure for self-confidence and courage is humility. Maybe we go out in order to fall short, because we want to learn how to be good at being people, and moreover, because we want to be people.

“How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day” by Arnold Bennett

A failure or so, in itself, would not matter, if it did not incur a loss of self-esteem and of self-confidence. But just as nothing succeeds like success, so nothing fails like failure. Most people who are ruined are ruined by attempting too much. Therefore, in setting out on the immense enterprise of living fully and comfort- ably within the narrow limits of twenty-four hours a day, let us avoid at any cost the risk of an early failure. I will not agree that, in this business at any rate, a glorious failure is better than a petty success. I am all for the petty success. A glorious failure leads to nothing; a petty success may lead to a success that is not petty.

Postscript

You, my reader with a keen eye, must have noticed that this issue looks slightly different. It does because I have moved my newsletters to the Ghost platform. Without going too much into details, let us just say that I wanted to challenge myself to write more long-form essays. I do plan to do that on Ghost.

I have published below essays since I delivered the last issue of the newsletter. Given that I recently started publishing with Ghost, these posts are meta thoughts on my choice of platforms.

You can also receive my essays along with the newsletter issues, if interested. Just let me know. I will deliver every essay I publish by email. Or you could, of course, also subscribe to the good old RSS feed.

Have any recommendations or feedback for me for the newsletter issue? I’d love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

Amit

No Blogging Platform is Perfect

Desk Top
Artwork by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The real test for any blogging platform is how simple it makes it to write from both a desktop and a mobile device. I have come to realize that no platform does it perfectly.

I look for these features in an editor from any platform before I select it. It needs to have a simple editor that works well for posts of any length, works well from a device of any form. It needs to support building drafts before posts are published. It needs to support a simple editing workflow. That’s it. And even these simple needs are not fulfilled by a single platform.

WordPress has a decent mobile app, supporting all the necessary features of the platform. But the Gutenberg block editor is so convoluted to work with even on desktops that working with it on a mobile device is an absolute pain. It has too many bells and whistles that a blogger with simple text writing needs rarely uses. It is good to capture the ideas in short and expand on them on a desktop. No wait, the editor is pain even on desktop.

The static site generators like Hugo, Jekyll, Eleventy etc. need a CMS to be tacked on to them. Sure, you can choose a CMS of your choice, but for me, the experience never worked well. I have tried multiple static site generators, but the overall publishing workflow is unnecessarily complicated for my simple needs.

Of course, there is always an option to use a text editor of your choice on your machine and publish the posts from the editors – if the integration exists for your selected platform that is. But that works best when you draft a post from a single machine. For me, that’s typically not the case. For example, just this post has been written across three different devices – a web-based CMS is a must for me.

Another promising option is connecting to IndieWeb and using any Micropub clients to publish to your sites. But unfortunately, after years of enabling all my sites with IndieWeb components and publishing via Micropub clients, I have come to realize that none is, by design, a CMS in any form. I find them lacking in supporting creation of drafts to work on later or editing of existing posts.

Sure, it has all the definitions for you to build such a system over, but that’s an unnecessary overhead that I am not ready to sign up for.

Micro.blog simplies hosting of a simple blog. It has a pretty decent iOS app, and a suite of well-defined APIs. A few third-party apps have already been build over those APIs. But the platform lacks a good editor – its editor is too basic for any post longer than a regular micro post. Sure, it works. But barely. On a mobile device, it does not work at all. The recommendation seems to be to use any of the mobile apps, but they all lack the features I need.

When I moved my blog to Micro.blog, I had published this concern.

I wonder if I would be ok to post mainly from mobile, but as a regular micropub post. WordPress always allowed me to post so much more. I am not sure what m.b allows. It should be good enough, but is it really? That would be a test.

Unfortunately, I have realized that the platform doesn’t pass that test, wholly. The editing experience remains poor for the long form posts – both from a desktop and a mobile device. It’s a great system with a promising base, but still has a long way to go before I can use it for the longer form content.

So where does this leave me?

I have been struggling a lot from the beginnning to find that one good platform that addresses all my needs mentioned above. But, unfortunately, I have failed to find a single one that does all the aspects well. I love Micro.blog as it solves my simple needs of hosting with a no-nonsense platform for blog. It works great for micro posts – I can live with the mobile workflow for such short posts.

And I have recently fallen in love with Ghost for the long-form needs. It has a great editor on both the desktop and mobile devices, it has a brilliant CMS for my drafting and editing needs and is a solid platform all-round that I can host myself. WordPress failed big time in that aspect.

So, at least for the foreseeable future, here’s how my posting is going to be. Micro.blog for micro-posts. Self-hosted Ghost for long-form posts, that includes my newsletter.

Why a special space for long-form writing you may ask?

I believe the choice of your blogging platform affects the type of posts you write. If the writing experience you have with a platform does not suit a particular form, you will invariably stop writing those posts.

My love for writing words is satiated only by the long-form posts. That love is also the reason why I started writing on the web in the first place. I can’t stop writing them just because the platform I choose for my convinience does not support such writing well.

Rating the film rating systems

Isn't it odd that we can't decide on a consistent content rating system across all the countries? I know I have ranted about this a many times before this. But I just can't wrap my head around the fact that we, supposedly smart humans, haven't figured out a way yet to addresses such a trivial aspect of our film watching experience.

How difficult is it to say that this content is made for children 6 years and above? Or 13 years and above?

I know. I'm ignoring the fact that all nations are not governed the same. They have individual definitions and expectations of freedom. Oversimplifying the problem at hand may not take us anywhere. The least I can do at least is to check which countries handle this rating problem the best.

I find it fascinating that Turkey has the simplest content rating system. These are the rating — General Audience, 6+, 10+, 13+, 16+, 18+. Austria is in the same league — Unrestricted, 6, 10, 12, 14, 16. Russia's not too far behind, too — 0+, 6+, 12+, 16+, 18+.

India has a simple range — U, UA, A, S. But those characters are meaningless. How is one to map them to the age of the child?

United States follows an even more muddled system — G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17. That's complication is unnecessary. It's unfortunate that those are the ratings that are most widely followed.

A couple of curious cases. South Africa has these categories — A, PG, 7–9PG, 10–12PG, 13, 16, 18, X18, XX. Plus these sub-descriptors — S, L, V, P, N, H, D, SV. Wow! I am sure a significant post-production budget goes towards arriving at the right rating for a film.

And finally, of course, China. It has no official rating system. There are only two categories — suitable for all ages and banned.

---

Here are a few additional observations and a proposal. 6, 16 and 18 are the most commonly agreed boundaries for the films. Only a few countries have any ranges beyond 18.

So, if we manage to find an agreeable boundary between 6 ad 16, we should be able to cover major countries with these ratings — 0+, 6+, 12+, 16+, 18+ . I am sure folks smarter than me will find a better way of conveying all why this system should work. Or convince me why this will never work.

On Thinking in Long Form

A common sentiment shared by most bloggers is that blogging is not supposed to be work. It needs to feel natural, flow freely, like a mirror reflection of a writer's mind. It needs to be a stream, a log of a thousand thoughts published on the web as they arrive. They do not need any adornment, any context. Because this medium is first for self. Write for yourself is the first suggestion every person publishing on the web gets.

I do connect with the sentiment, yet I believe the suggestion doesn't address all facets of writing. Personally, I love blogging, but I also love writing long form posts. The only way I know of to get better at an activity is to do it regularly. So, it was natural for me to get frustrated with the fact that I do not publish long form posts any more. Colin had a detailed reply, again reiterating the same sentiment.

I have also found that I write less long form content but feel it's more a reflection of the way I blog now rather than due to any external influence. Writing without titles, writing in thoughts rather than posts, means that each item is only as long as it needs to be.

He does acknowledge that he too gets frustrated at times, but he has found a way to address his need via a newsletter that he regularly publishes.

I sometimes get a little frustrated at the dearth of longer posts as it means I'm not going in to any real depth, but then I have the muse-letter to explore things further. That doesn't mean that longer form posts don't appear on the blog, it is more a "stream of consciousness" affair. And that suits me for now.

Sure, a blog needs to be just that — a “stream of consciousness” — but what if it makes a person stop thinking deep and just jot down the thoughts as they come? Without revisiting them to expand on them? A writer, needs to provide his thoughts space to evolve. He needs a place where he can borrow time and think deep. A place where he can knit a few ideas together and publish a coherent essay. A blog post, for sure, is not that.

Don't get me wrong, and I repeat, I love blogging. But I also like to think deep. Write posts that are more than my thoughts, out there for the world to consume as part of some timeline. There was a time that I used to post longer posts pretty regularly. I had drafts that I worked on for days. Read more, expanded on the original idea. A need for such workflow doesn't exist any more. I recently wrote.

I am reading many people's writing process today and am absolutely stunned at how simple my writing needs are. I don't write drafts after drafts in any tool. All my drafts are one line ideas in my notebook or saved articles with tags "to-write". I find time for writing and complete a post about an idea or article. For that matter, most of my posts are spontaneous -- I get a thought and I put it down into a post.

Realizing how simplistic my needs are, I ended that post with this question, “what use do I have for the text editors any more?

I think that was a rhetorical question posed to myself. Do I want to post just the spontaneous thoughts or also at times go deep and word something more meaningful? I have always known that the answer to that question is both, but I haven't found a right balance to achieve that yet. The regularity of microposts lends me a feeling of achieving the writing goals, but as I look back at the archive, that achievement feels hollow.

All said, though, I need to separate the spontaneous posts from my long form ones. The former allows me to stay real, genuine. The latter challenges my creative self. My mind needs both the outlets. A single portal has failed to provide that, and am tired of attempting to string one. So, here's a start in that direction.

What Holds You Back?

Hello Friend,

My daughter recently learnt how to ride a bicycle. I spent two weeks making her follow the basics, inspiring her to give up on the fear of falling. I had marked the first week to convince her that falling is how she will learn not to stay down. She should learn to get up and pedal again. It’s OK if you fall, you won’t cherish the efforts otherwise.

Once she had that thought imbibed, all I had to do was hold her and run along. I ran like crazy, like I had not in ages. I ran, and then I ran some more. Until one fine morning when I let her loose and saw her pedal along. I jogged next to her, a proud smile on my face. In being a parent, I was reliving a phase of my childhood.

Yesterday, we rode our bicycles together, with her alongside me when we came across a kid learning with training wheels. I could read her eyes wonder why didn’t I get those added wheels for balancing. I planned to tell her that it would have taken her longer to learn with that support attached. My mind was already racing along, talking to her, telling her.

The artificial sense of support holds you back, dear. Just like me running alongside you, never releasing you, will. I will always hold you back from riding away, from taking control of your path. I can make you aware of your fears, but it is you who has to surmount them.

However, she never asked. I never said. Maybe, she already knew.

What are the training wheels in your life - supporting you but thereby preventing you from taking the flight? Anyway, with that said, here is a selection of three brilliant works of writing.


"Attitude" by Margaret Atwood

[N]obody ever tells you, but did you know that when you have a baby your hair falls out? Not all of it, and not all at once, but it does fall out. It has something to do with a zinc imbalance. The good news is that it does grow back in. This only applies to girls. With boys, it falls out whether you have a baby or not, and it never grows back in; but even then there is hope. In a pinch, you can resort to quotation, a commodity which a liberal arts education teaches you to treat with respect, and I offer the following: “God only made a few perfect heads, and the rest lie covered with hair.”

"Bookshop Memories" by George Orwell

Many of the people who came to us were of the kind who would be a nuisance anywhere but have special opportunities in a bookshop. For example, the dear old lady who ‘wants a book for an invalid’ (a very common demand, that), and the other dear old lady who read such a nice book in 1897 and wonders whether you can find her a copy. Unfortunately she doesn’t remember the title or the author’s name or what the book was about, but she does remember that it had a red cover. But apart from these there are two well-known types of pest by whom every second-hand bookshop is haunted. One is the decayed person smelling of old breadcrusts who comes every day, sometimes several times a day, and tries to sell you worthless books. The other is the person who orders large quantities of books for which he has not the smallest intention of paying.

"The Danger of Lying in Bed" by Mark Twain

I could read of railway accidents every day–the newspaper atmosphere was foggy with them; but somehow they never came my way. I found I had spent a good deal of money in the accident business, and had nothing to show for it. My suspicions were aroused, and I began to hunt around for somebody that had won in this lottery. I found plenty of people who had invested, but not an individual that had ever had an accident or made a cent. I stopped buying accident tickets and went to ciphering. The result was astounding. THE PERIL LAY NOT IN TRAVELING, BUT IN STAYING AT HOME.

Postscript

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit

On Making Time for Life

Hello Friend,

At the surface, this channel of communication feels so abstract. I don’t know whether you read this to the end; maybe you skim through for something of interest. Whatever you do, I feel as if I am writing a letter to an old friend. I bear no sense of entitlement just because I am writing an issue of a newsletter. On the contrary, I feel honoured that you allow space for my ripe thoughts in your inbox. I appreciate you taking the time, even if all you do is skim.

Anyway, I have, for many years, struggled to find time for things that matter, to make time for them in the routine. A routine that keeps getting tangled with each passing day. The problem has recently aggravated as I stay locked down at home, always connected. I pass the time without being aware of doing so. I know this isn’t healthy.

The book “Make Time” sets itself up with just that problem. It presents a set of tips and tricks “for improving focus, finding greater joy in your work, and getting more out of every day”. The self-help books tend to crow over whatever little they have to say. This one was among those rear ones that win me over by their simplicity. It inspired me to bring in some simple changes to my routine.

To list a few, I follow a fixed sleep routine now; I exercise and meditate daily. My smartphone unlocks to a blank home screen with no apps, no widgets waiting to distract me. I spend not more than 2 hours on group meetings in a day. I am not letting others’ priorities run my day.

Every morning, I write down a highlight that will bring some sense of satisfaction to the day. Every evening, I log out from all my devices and spend a good hour or two with my family at a fixed time.

And the list goes on. In short, I desire to be conscious of how I spend my time. I have made many minor shifts in my routine in the last month. Do I see any gains? I am not judging yet. But I am leading my life at the very least.

Anyway, I hope this letter inspires you to contemplate whether you are doing the same with your life - consciously living it. With that said, here is a selection of three brilliant works of writing.


"This Is The Life" by Annie Dillard

Who is your “everyone”? Chess masters scarcely surround themselves with motocross racers. Do you want aborigines at your birthday party? Or are you serving yak-butter tea? Popular culture deals not in its distant past, or any other past, or any other culture. You know no one who longs to buy a mule or be named to court or thrown into a volcano.
So the illusion, like the visual field, is complete. It has no holes except books you read and soon forget. And death takes us by storm. What was that, that life? What else offered? If for him it was contract bridge, if for her it was copyright law, if for everyone it was and is an optimal mix of family and friends, learning, contribution, and joy of making and ameliorating what else is there, or was there, or will there ever be?

"Against Joie de Vivre" by Phillip Lopate

The truth is, most wisdom is embittering. The task of the wise person cannot be to pretend with false naiveté that every moment is new and unprecedented, but to bear the burden of bitterness which experience forces on us with as much uncomplaining dignity as strength will allow. Beyond that, all we can ask of ourselves is that bitterness not cancel out our capacity still to be surprised.

"On Running After One’s Hat" by G. K. Chesterton

Real pain, as in the case of being burnt at Smithfield or having a toothache, is a positive thing; it can be supported, but scarcely enjoyed. But, after all, our toothaches are the exception, and as for being burnt at Smithfield, it only happens to us at the very longest intervals. And most of the inconveniences that make men swear or women cry are really sentimental or imaginative inconveniences—things altogether of the mind. For instance, we often hear grown-up people complaining of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train. Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train? No; for to him to be inside a railway station is to be inside a cavern of wonder and a palace of poetical pleasures. Because to him the red light and the green light on the signal are like a new sun and a new moon. Because to him when the wooden arm of the signal falls down suddenly, it is as if a great king had thrown down his staff as a signal and started a shrieking tournament of trains.

Postscript

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit

How am I doing right now? 2021 edition

It was exactly a year ago that I had posted my thoughts on a few key questions. The idea was to capture how I was doing right then. It was a welcome and much needed introspection. I didn't want to miss on the opportunity to revisit the answers from the last year and see what has changed.

It was a nice exercise. My thoughts a year back were so quite unfamiliar to what I am going through today. So, here's an update to the same set of questions. Again, I would love to hear how you are doing.

How are you taking care of yourself today?

Regular exercise and daily meditation. Reading a lot more fiction and non-fiction. I'm still listening to music and many audiobooks. Staying far away from news.

What part of your shelter-in-place residence have you come to appreciate the most?

Garden at my home. The wooden swing at the top floor that overlooks the garden.

What surprising thing have you been stocking up on (that isn’t toilet paper)?

Biscuits. Lots of them.

What’s a story — from a book, a movie, an article, a conversation — that you’ve been gripped by recently? Why did it capture you?

Nothing grips me any more. Maybe I have grown numb?

What habit have you started, or broken, during the quarantine?

I have stopped staying awake late into the Friday and Saturday nights. That was one habit I had, stay up late either mindlessly watching something or working on side projects.

As an effect, I am following a pretty routine. Get a calming and wholesome sleep.

Which specific place in your neighborhood are you most looking forward to visiting once this is all over?

Again, every part of the neighbourhood. Especially malls and the restaurants.

What’s the easiest part about the quarantine?

Getting bored. And getting creative.

What are some things you have realized that you don’t really need?

Cash. And fancy clothes. What I wear at home is often good enough even outside.

What’s something you own that feels useful?

Kindle. Headphones.

What is your COVID-19 nickname/alter-ego?

Calm workaholic.

What problem—either yours, or something more global —do you wish you could solve?

Global Stupidity. Political Divisiveness. Natural Selfishness.

On A Healthful Train of Thought

Hello Friend,

I hope you are in a healthy state of mind and body; the endless whirlpool of tragic tales from the pandemic-ridden world hasn’t pulled you down.

I lately focus a lot on my health, both physical and mental. My mind and body have endured a lot of stress in the past three months, making me realize the importance of staying fit. It was time that I took control and regain the lost energy.

Keeping up with such a resolution is not easy. My mind desires to wander; my body demands to lay back. You are so tired; why do you want to exert yourself more? It questions. And I have often given in to their desires and demands. Not this time, though.

For more than a month now, I have been on the lookout for ways to help myself with this fight. To find ways that work for me. To not give up on the resolve when the things that aren’t working out. I have read a series of articles and books that have helped many that I know. I am consciously implementing what they suggest, attempting before deciding.

Very often, I have fallen prey to prematurely make up my mind about the suggestions from others. “I don’t share that surrounding. I am in such a different phase of my life. That’s too costly. Or too difficult. Or too stupid.” My mind always finds some way to convince me why the suggested strategies won’t work. A month back, it was time for some introspection.

Is it not ironic that a tired mind and body doesn’t want to be taken care of?

Anyway, here’s a selection of this edition’s three brilliant works of writing. I hope they trigger some inspiration for your mind to churn a few happy, positive thoughts.


"Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell

It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.

"Things We Think We Know" by Chuck Klosterman

We adore stereotypes, and we desperately need them to fabricate who we are (or who we are not). People need to be able to say things like, “All stereotypes are based on ignorance,” because expressing such a sentiment makes them enlightened, open-minded, and incredibly unpleasant. Meanwhile, their adversaries need the ability to say things such as, “Like it or not, all stereotypes are ultimately based in some sort of reality,” because that kind of semilogic can justify their feelings about virtually anything. Nobody really cares what specific stereotype they happen to be debating; what matters more is how that label was spawned, because that defines its consequence. It raises a fundamental query about the nature of existence: Is our anecdotal understanding of the world founded on naivete, or is it built on dark, unpopular truths?

"Once More to the Lake" by E. B. White

We had a good week at the camp. The bass were biting well and the sun shone endlessly, day after day. We would be tired at night and lie down in the accumulated heat of the little bedrooms after the long hot day and the breeze would stir almost imperceptibly outside and the smell of the swamp drift in through the rusty screens. Sleep would come easily and in the morning the red squirrel would be on the roof, tapping out his gay routine. I kept remembering everything, lying in bed in the mornings–the small steamboat that had a long rounded stern like the lip of a Ubangi, and how quietly she ran on the moonlight sails, when the older boys played their mandolins and the girls sang and we ate doughnuts dipped in sugar, and how sweet the music was on the water in the shining night, and what it had felt like to think about girls then.

Postscript

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit

Let's Talk About Thoughts That Make You Uneasy

Hello Friend,

The last month was pretty exhausting for me. We had planned a family function at our home; the closest few were to gather after a long, long time. I would not have objected if we had delayed a get together of any form in these trying times of pandemic. However, this function was long overdue, and we could no longer avoid it. So with a slight uneasiness and a lot of uncertainty, we decided to go ahead with a smallish gathering.

Deep down, however, I was also anxiously awaiting to be surrounded by a few people after all. I wanted to take my mind away from the gloomy, saddening updates from the world over. This function lent the desired chance to do that. Isn’t it curious that the personal pressures allow you to be distracted, to momentarily stay aloof of the fact that the world around you is burning? Is it cynical? Selfish? Sure, it is. But sometimes selfishness is healthy for a burdened mind.

For a whole week, I was running around, planning for the event. I was exerting my body to the extreme. But the physical pain out of uninterrupted exertion is a lot less discomforting than the pain that any form of inertness inflicts on the mind.

As the day came to an end and I greeted adieus to my closest folks, I was left exhausted, but I had a big smile on my face. I felt a lot contented, at ease within. As if the difficult time had passed. So naive, yet freshening. If nothing else, I have accumulated a few memories that, surprisingly, aren’t blotted with the dull shadows of the pandemic.

Anyway, here’s a selection of this edition’s three brilliant works of writing. I hope they inspire you to word a few memories, a few uneasy thoughts of yours.


"Us and Them" by David Sedaris

Because they had no TV, the Tomkeys were forced to talk during dinner. They had no idea how puny their lives were, and so they were not ashamed that a camera would have found them uninteresting. They did not know what attractive was or what dinner was supposed to look like or even what time people were supposed to eat. Sometimes they wouldn’t sit down until eight o'clock, long after everyone else had finished doing the dishes. During the meal, Mr. Tomkey would occasionally pound the table and point at his children with a fork, but the moment he finished, everyone would start laughing. I got the idea that he was imitating someone else, and wondered if he spied on us while we were eating.

“Why Write?” by Paul Auster

It became a habit of mine never to leave the house without making sure I had a pencil in my pocket. It’s not that I had any particular plans for that pencil, but I didn’t want to be unprepared. I had been caught empty-handed once, and I wasn’t about to let it happen again. If nothing else, the years have taught me this: if there’s a pencil in your pocket, there’s a good chance that one day you’ll feel tempted to start using it. As I like to tell my children, that’s how I became a writer.

"It’s silly to be frightened of being dead" by Diana Athill

I can’t remember when I read, or was told, that he [Montaigne] considered it a good thing to spend a short time every day thinking about death, thus getting used to its inevitability and coming to understand that something inevitable is natural and can’t be too bad, but it was in my early teens, and it struck me as a sensible idea. Of course I didn’t set out to think about death in a regular way every day, but I did think about it quite often, and sure enough, it worked. Why coming to see death’s naturalness should have caused belief in an afterlife to melt away, I am unsure, but it did. Probably that belief had been no more than an unexamined acceptance of something said by a grownup: in a child’s life there are many things more important to question than the probability of reuniting after death with other dead people – ideas that are tucked away on a back shelf of the mind like some object for which one has no use at present.

Postscript

Have any recommendations or feedback for me? I’d love to hear from you. Just hit reply, or you can even email me.

Thank you for reading and sharing.

-Amit

Revisiting 2020 through the /now page

I updated my /now page today after a long time. I usually maintain a thought’s archive as part of the page for the updates that are no longer relevant. The idea behind is revisiting the thoughts that once were at the top of my mind is another way for me to retrospect.

Today I’ve reset that section for 2021. And below is an unadulterated list of the thought archive from 2020 – so in a way a snapshot (incomplete, sure) of the year that went by.

  • I’m trying to get into a habit of regular meditation. I want to give it a chance again.
  • I’m in love with the Hamilton soundtrack. I keep going back to it every now and then.
  • Study Café Album on Spotify has been my go-to album every time I want to focus. If that fails, the real café ambient noise from Coffitivity does the job.
  • I have started writing frequently now. The simpler writing workflow with WordPress is helping.
  • Need to get the backup solution for posts (probably in WordPress) addressed.
  • Focus on deciding on the format, the frequency and the tone of the newsletter.
  • Where would my blog go next? Or will it stay here? It would most probably not be WordPress
  • I want a better writing interface. Or maybe not? Why do I want to create something perfect myself?
  • Need to get to the improvements planned for Wall.
  • Read. Read. Read. Write. Write. Write.
  • I need to finish the couple of books I had started reading in the last month
  • Implement a micropub client. Get anything working. Without UI. Dropped the idea
  • Getting used to the new normal.
  • Write about and share details about Wall. Feedback and issues.
  • Get IndieLogin working – just been too long now
  • Get distracted with the side projects, again. IndieWeb’s done.
  • Start reading and writing again
  • Stop procrastinating items from must-do list
  • Fix issue with webmentions from Brid.gy
  • Send webmentions to target on replies/likes
  • Support for updates in blotpub
  • Decision on upcoming nearby travel
  • Handle crossposting to Twitter and Mastodon for longer posts
  • Style webmentions section to my liking. It is too bloated in the current form
  • Start \now page to be updated regularly
  • Consolidate all my online content onto a single place (most probably blot)
  • Move old content from Hugo to archive (a Hugo site)
  • Change stuff around

A few guilty pleasures

1. A bowl of hot instant noodles

2. An hour of reaction videos on YouTube

3. A pack of Lays late at night

4. That episode from Seinfeld or Friends

5. Idling away morning hours in the bed

6. That planned "sick" leave

7. Right Click and Inspect Element (Q) on random sites

8. Cheap, unnecessary online buys

9. Binge-watch session on Weekdays

...and that one simple pleasure - a calming head massage with warm coconut oil.