Categories
Chronic Disease Chronicle

Day 68 and Two Steps Back

Last week was a bit of a disaster for me. I had a change in my medications regimen that triggered daily migraines, I got over my skis on a bunch of work projects and someone close to me is very ill. My doctor asked me to please reduce my workload as I’m still not stabilized to their satisfaction.

I’m pretty angry about it as I’ve been working hard on ridding myself of as many symptoms of chronic disease as possible. The possibility that I can be fully functional and healthy feels within reach. But it turns out I’ve got a few more months to go before I’m cleared to return to a full time load. Obviously the fact that I’m a workaholic addicted to having a large workload complicates things as well.

I actually feel quite well now as I’ve had a couple days of rest but I got pretty indignant that I couldn’t just push through especially as I have a pet project now in Illegal.Auction that I would like to promote. But instead I’m shitposting on Twitter and making viral tweets about monarchy and chaos magic. And watching a lot of television. Which is actually a sign of progress if you can believe it. Typically I struggle to intake information in any other form but written. So as they say two steps forward and one step back.

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Chronicle Internet Culture

Day 67 and Virality

There are few more satisfying feelings in the world than seeing your emotions mirrored back to you. It’s what makes us fall in love, form communities, build anything that takes the work of more than one person. I’m not sure that anything matters more to humans than feeling seen.

Feeling seen is valuable. Finance knows it, marketers know it, fashion designers know it and the algorithms really know it. A switch flips when the outside world mirrors us back. The cold reality of being atomistic individuals dissolves just a little with the prospect that the other might not be so far away after all

This is why going viral on social media is such an ecstatic feeling for people. Being mirrored at mass scale is beyond pleasure and pain. Virality is existential. This fact is not lost on Silicon Valley and various expatriates of the culture and even current citizens question the morality. Creating virtual existential experiences feels wrong to us. And I can’t argue that the consequences of virality hasn’t done significant damage to the fabric of civilization. Facebook has more blood on its hands than a small government. But I’m not sold that synthetic experiences are morally worth less than natural ones. Social media replicates religious and cultural experiences but whether it’s “worse” than the other existential experiences is a bit like questioning if opium or fentanyl is worse because plants are morally superior to chemistry labs. The effect is the same more or less. Sure the dosing is what gets you but arguing scale gets you into a “good of the many or good of the one” debates and I’m not the crew of the Enterprise or Spock.

I can tell you that it’s probably best to be cautious about anything that can get you hooked if you know you are an addict. I’ve gone viral on Twitter several times in the past week and probably going on double digits now in the last year. Each time I get a new appreciation for how much it can feel like a god has messed with your reality. If it goes poorly you feel like you got hit by a bolt from the blue. Even if it goes well you worry if maybe Aries has decided to make you his tool. I’m a Christian so I’m no stranger to the feeling of surrender to a higher power, but watching a machine algorithm play like the left hand of God in your life is fucking weird.

By Silicon Valley standards I’m a minor clerical authority in some backwater. I’ve been initiated into the rights but I’m not close to the Vatican or Mecca. Being swept up in the miracle of virality makes some amount of sense to me and I appreciate the benefits of status that it confers. But I know it’s a ritualized way of bringing us closer to the divine that’s not about the individual and is ultimately about the institution. Fortunately I’m also a Calvinist so I have very few illusions about my place in the experience. I’m still a sinner and whether I’m damned or not hasn’t got much to do with human rituals. But I’m not immune to the awesome either.

So if you are inclined to use social media be careful what weight you assign to your actions and words. At any moment a miracle facilitated by the rites of machines can and will occur. I made a stupid joke about a monarchy in decline and a television show about a witch in a massive universe of superheroes. But 31,000 accounts decided to like it and a million discrete instances of it were produced to “others” willing to mirror it back to me. Which is about as stupid a thing as I can imagine happening and also as close to the random miraculously nature of God as I can possibly imagine. Just don’t read too much into it or your faith might have an existential crisis as well.

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Chronic Disease Chronicle

Day 66 and Moralizing Health

I’m sure there is a perfectly reasonable evolutionary explanation why humans developed a bias correlating health with moral righteousness. Jesus and lepers aside, teaching the herd that you needed to stay away from infectious individuals is what formed the “winning” population is probably a lesson some reply guy will shove down my face. Like I get it, fucking and producing offspring is what makes you Darwin fit.

It’s just a deeply stupid thing to continue when we have the scientific method at our disposal and can actually test for what causes disease. This isn’t to say that lots of behaviors we moralize around strongly can’t correlate to poor outcomes (smoking, alcohol, food) but depending on the person you’ve got countless other variables. Population level statistics are crucial for actually gaining certainty on a hypothesis and what happens “most of the time” but there are always edge cases. We shouldn’t let edge cases dissuade us from good policy that will benefit most of us. But we should always leave wiggle room and exceptions for the outliers.

I don’t even mean this grandiosely, more like if you are a heroin addict switching that to cigarettes is a better addiction substitute. Maybe you get lung cancer or heart disease but that’s still on balance the better outcome when faced with overdose. For me weed is a better drug comparatively than opioids for chronic pain. Would I be thrilled to require no drugs ever? Maybe! Or maybe that is just centuries of stories moralizing the clarity and goodness of our leaders who never once required aid or comfort on their journeys to power. Lol, sure humans love to retcon the stories of our historical victors. The only hero who didn’t try to write out the sinning part was Jesus Christ and we sure hate to be reminded of the failings of his friends and family. Mary Magdalene was such a slut amirite?

So next time someone shits on you for doing something that is unhealthy for the general population but healthy for you, I give you my full permission to tell them to shove it if they are being an asshole. Don’t like dunk people for sharing their joy at making decisions that improve their lives. But don’t expect that it has to be done to everyone’s lives.

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Chronicle Internet Culture

Day 65 and Shitposting

Being emotionally vulnerable in public is one of best things I’ve ever done in my life. The second best is easily shitposting.

If you are not extremely online (how did you get here) shitposting is the deliberate act of soliciting a response online. It’s traditionally used as a lower effort way to shape engagement and discourse. Partially because social media has made sharing opinions so easy, the act of crafting a nuanced argument and presenting it to an interested audience has become equally weighted to attracting supporters and advocates.

This isn’t as terrible as it sounds. Audiences can be built by anyone now. Shitposting allows creators who have a firm grasp on concise and comprehensible language to get across their point to anyone. Rather than suffering through pontification by elevated voices protected by institutional gatekeepers, we can hear bursts of truthful hilarity from nobodies. Think of it as somewhere between “the emperor has no clothes” and “from the mouth of babes.”

Having a firm grasp of the shitpost has elevated my voice in a way I’m not sure any amount of power or prestige could have done. Sure on the internet no one knows you are a dog but also don’t know you are a woman either (avatars aside). Quick bursts of wit can penetrate in a way that centuries of systemic bias simply can’t do.

The shitpost is always provocative but generally the best ones are in service to an obvious truth. This is culturally a part of meme sharing. Memes gain traction because they are immediately comprehensible despite containing layers and layers of deep context. In this way they resemble our richest multimedia experiences. It isn’t quite “a picture is worth a thousand words” because shitposta can often be Tweets but there is something to the truth that descriptors and adjectives just can’t reach. Meme and shitposts are often quite funny as humor is the fastest way to be legible to a large audience. But it isn’t necessarily a prerequisite.

Shitposting is also inherently anti-authority. It makes no calls to justice or power. It implodes sacred cows. I suspect one of the reasons I don’t believe in cancel-culture as a massive threat is because any anonymous asshole can put out the fever of a mob.

I highly recommend doing more Shitposting. Start in your private chats if you aren’t brave enough to do it on named profiles. Or create an anonymous account. Just start getting your truest stupidest thoughts out there. You won’t regret it.

Categories
Chronic Disease Chronicle Startups

Day 64 and Addiction

I’ve been working through unconscious mindset issues and self limiting belief systems as an active exercise the past few months.

I’ve been really hung up on the value of pain and discomfort. Somewhere along the line I became convinced that working hard is morally good. And over time that developed into an addiction to work. I got off on being seen as someone who never quits.

This workaholism eventually had the consequences of forcing me into quitting everything in order to survive my addiction. I didn’t have a choice at a certain point as it was stop being a workaholic or quite literally die. My health failed me so I could have a second chance. I’m still grateful that I chose life but not a day goes by where I don’t wonder if it was the wrong choice. What is living if I’m not killing myself?

Realizing that rock bottom was a choice was a bit of a shock to me. I always thought it was an external forcing mechanism that finally freed you from your addiction. I had a very Augustinian “make me good but oh not just yet” understanding of my addiction.

And because my addiction is considered virtuous I’ve had a lot harder time seeing the value of letting it go. We look down on drinking, drugs and other sins. Work isn’t on the list of seven deadly sins. Sure I get pleasure from working but I can’t separate it entirely from the external validation I got from being “good” especially from people I perceived as my betters. And because I had a challenging relationship with my father as a child (he is also a workaholic) this put me in a precarious position when dealing with older white men. In other words, anyone who will ever finance me or mentor me, as technology and finance has an extreme demographic skew. I was constantly in a place where I wanted validation from these elders to soothe my inner child. I would do anything to show them I was good and worthy. I’m sure there is a Biblical or Greek tragedy angle to a child so deeply committed to being sacrificed for their father.

All this was compounded by the feeling I got when people who were my peers put me on a pedestal. They wanted me to be a martyr as much as I wanted it. And some of them will likely never forgive me for not being their own personal Jesus.

This all leaves me with very mixed feelings as I know I hit my rock bottom and it’s time to leave behind my addiction. And it’s very much time to rid myself of enablers who pleasured and profited off my disease. But it’s so much a work in progress. I feel the desire to jump back in to work and say yes to everyone who wants my work. I love it and they want it. But I need to find a way to only ever commit to those who want me to be well and thriving.

Too many people profit off of the deep desire workaholics have to always be producing. Capital and eager teammates can easily see a workaholic as a better bet for making money. I’m sure most don’t realize it is predatory because they assume we can stop. The sad truth is I’m not sure I would have stopped. I just got lucky I became too sick to carry on. So this is me committing to only working with those who want me on their team if I’m healthy and “sober” because I’m not going back on the “bottle” ever again. I just hope it means my work will be better for it. I think it will but it’s one day at a time.

Categories
Chronic Disease Chronicle

Day 63 and Directionally Correct

I default to action over inaction. Don’t know if something will work? Try it!

I’ve never struggled with paralysis by analysis. I intake a lot of information and then even if I’m not sure I’m entirely correct I’ll still jump if I’m confident I’m directionally correct. This had proved to be a good recipe for startup work and financial gain. But I’m learning this methodology is fairly shitty for health.

Medicine needs a little more patience and a lot more precision. Data points accumulate and you can only effectively progress if you can isolate what is causing distress. I fucking hate this. I want to throw a thousand drugs and supplements and protocols at my body and just move “directionally” towards health. Portfolio theory doesn’t really work on autoimmune diseases as it turns out.

Thanks to an incredible functional health doctor I have been making fast strides in my quest to control my autoimmune disease. My pain has been under control, my spinal swelling is down, my energy is up and my focus is clear. So I was particularly frustrated last week when adding a new drug to my regimen wasn’t clearly “correct” and I had no way to tell if it was directionally correct. I just have to wait it out.

I had terrible migraines. My pain spiked. My sleep suffered. And all I wanted to do was throw more drugs and supplements at the symptoms so I could get back to life. I have been doing more investing, advising more companies, and taking on more personal projects. I didn’t want to lose that. I love working.

But unlike with startup life I can’t just muscle through it and see if my bet will pay off. We have to be careful. Systemic cascades are bad in biology. Think cytokine storms and covid19 cases. I could easily undue all this progress in my pursuit of action over inaction. We need to be more certain that my body can handle this new drug regimen and winging it isn’t an option.

So I’m stuck being patient (pun not intended). I can’t push it. Directionally correct isn’t good enough. And that means slowing down so I can go fast later. In some areas you need higher degrees of certainty.

Categories
Aesthetics Chronicle Finance Internet Culture Media Startups

Day 62 And Who Can Make Art

My ego dislikes debate, but my heart leaps at tension.

Over the weekend, my friend Phil and I decided to make a functional art installation called Illegal.Auction. The premise is simple: we are selling Fungible Tokens (or NFTs) of Culture. 

Unsettled ideas of generation and representations colliding with abstractions like finance are important issues both culturally and practically.

Art is for itself, so who cares either way. A certain dogmatic insistence that “medium is the message” is pervasive in the critiques. Are movies different than books? I don’t think they have anything to do with the price of milk. It reminds me of the classic Annie Hall scene (speaking of artistic intent and harm) where Marshal McLuhan explodes on a chattering group “you know nothing of my work.” Woody Allen’s character concludes the scene if only real life were like this. Well on Twitter you can recreate this scene everyday!

It is funny because commentary is distinct from creation. And a lot of people have takes on McLuhan that he himself doesn’t agree with. But who cares right? Interpretation of art is ostensibly art.

It’s very interesting to see just how angry people get about the worth and value of culture in particular. As if it’s some monstrosity to comment on the abstract financial value of some creation with worth that cannot be extracted.

If it were so easy to make value judgments about art then we would trade it on the Chicago exchange like pork bellies and orange juice. Not that we don’t already sell art and trade it and frankly it has been a massive tension through the history of human creation how we value that work, but now many have decided to insist that art is non-fungible. Not interchangeable on a one to one basis like an apple. And yet we are acting like everything can be valued and traded so easily with NFTs. By making art tradeable on exchanges, we have made some thing inherently non-fungible, fungible.

This is ultimately where Illegal.Auction came from. These conversations are important and transformative. That we choose to represent the tensions with representations of reproductions of jpgs of art is part of the art installation. That it is a functional sale is in inherent to the tension.

There is a part of me that is really worried that because I am not a practicing artist that is paid for work or represented in a gallery, that I don’t have a right to comment on these issues. I am a technologist and I do work in finance and the overlap of disciplines makes this an inter-disciplinary question in my mind. It seems like some people disagree with my right to create art (and certainly the morality of remuneration).

But if we insist that only artists can make art I don’t have any right to make installations remixing software and representations. But I’m not sure anyone reading this is comfortable with that world. I am not.

I think people want there to be simple yes no questions to these things. Is it legal? Did you steal? Is it a transformative remixing of a cultural artifact? Is it worth $1 million? And the truth is is that there is no easy answer to what political system is best or how much some thing is worth. Trillion dollar industries are based around the fact that we don’t have clear answers. Irate commentary doesn’t help any of us understand the infinite questions of worth and creation. It is good to do and helps further understanding but its crucial to remember indignation and moralizing is a function of ego.

Personally I don’t think that wealth has any moral value. I don’t want to have to be wealthy in order to be valuable. Or if a piece of art I make does make money do you have a right to tell me it is objectionable because this isn’t how you make money? I guess you do. Whether you can stop me from doing it is a central questions for the ages and also literally why it is important to create pieces like Illegal.Auction in the first place.

This commentary I think is worth having. Not whether speculative infinite land grabs with financial instruments make you worth more to billionaires. They probably do. That’s fine! I think people are mostly offended by the idea that non-artists can make art. Especially if a transaction takes place. If we had stamped illegal on the jpgs and blocked out NOT ART on them would it have made it better? Conceptually I’m not sure that that’s true and probably reflects the viewer’s own sense of value and worth more than a legal, political or moral reality. Also I personally think it cheapens the point just to make concessions to dogmatic insistence on ownership in a space that isn’t settled because frankly it cannot be.

Much of the narrative and coverage around NFTs is that they delineate ownership, value and origination more cleanly. I’d argue that they are actually having the opposite effect. NFT’s are ripping away edifice and abstractions that we use to assign value and worth. And that makes people uncomfortable.

Categories
Finance Internet Culture

Day 61 and The Semiotics of Ownership

I wrote a lot today. Like a LOT. Over the weekend my dear friend and erstwhile cofounder decided to make an interactive art installation to explore our interest in non-fungible tokens. We’ve been watching the explosion of interest in digital art, sports memorabilia, and tickets. We had a lot of questions about how value is created, traded and ultimately decided.

We typically learn best by building and doing so we thought rather than get mired in spammy YouTube tutorials and long essays we would build our own minimum bid auction for a set of NFTs. Phil Leif thought a funny domain would be illegal.auction and we were off to the races.

We both share a love for Matt Levine and his running gag that everything is securities fraud. This leads to lots of funny discussions about reprehensible behavior that is totally legal and perfectly fine decisions that somehow end up being felonies. The American financial system!

It turns out that it’s relatively simple for a developer or even someone nominally technical to mint an NFT using platforms like rarible. Putting together our own site was the same basic stack you’d expect for a simple web app that sells e-commerce things. We thought a web 1 Craigslist aesthetic fit the bill.

The last step was what on earth would we sell. Too many jokes have been made a lot bad art, dumb art and meme art. In fact, the entire concept of art seemed less interesting than a discussion of what constitutes art and how removed we are from the source of creation in a financialization scenario where something that is supposedly unique is made fungible. So we thought screw it, this is clearly a meditation on art, representation and the semiotics of value. So why not go all in on the satire? Why not ask why finance is so keep to manufacture another esoteric asset class with some technically novel structure. Is this good? Is it bad? Who knows. We aren’t even sure if it is a “thing” or not the further you remove it from reality. It’s just all so abstract.

This the first unsanctioned sale of art representations was born. Featuring a diverse selection of copies of contemporary and street art for new and seasoned collectors alike. The sale includes unauthorized digital images.

We went pretty far down the semiotics rabbit hole in our artists statement.

The auction works. You can buy representations of art thanks to a non-fungible token. The token is legitimate and shows just how early you got in on this. And it’s pretty darn funny. Except for all the people who have some ideas about IP law. Even though it’s pretty clear we mean this as satire and they should really jump into the discourse on what it means to own a unique item that has been reduced to a hash on a blockchain. Financialization gets pretty weird and we would all benefit from a discussion of the cultural foundations of ownership.

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Chronic Disease Chronicle

Day 60 and Never Saving Anything For The Swim Back

I’m feeling scrambled today as I’m not quite in a place where I can push myself without consequences but I’m also not so sick that I can’t work at all. It’s an awful liminal state where I’m working what is probably the actual productive output of an average person but still need to buffer in time for medical shit.

I honestly contemplate just lying about being sick some days. I could hide the disability of chronic illness and no one would be any wiser. Well minus the public posts about being sick but you get my meaning. I’d probably have to get a little bit better at scheduling work during consistent productive hours, push through when I feel like shit, and then crash when I wasn’t on the clock. I’d be seen as a little unreliable but definitely enough that I could manage as a director at some company.

I’m not sure if this says something bad about me or about the expectations of the American workplace. Probably a little of both. I’m clearly a bit of an outlier and we don’t actually expect that much output from the average worker. When I’m operating at my full capacity I blow away workloads. I sometimes doubt if I’ve ever been at full capacity and I’ve been faking it my entire life. I’ve never been completely hale and hearty. I’ve always had a tendency to put on a show when I’m in public and then retreat into recovery when in private. I’ve been a very boom and bust person.

I don’t really want to live this way though. I’d rather run a marathon than be a sprinter that is collapsing after each race. I recognize that in some way this pattern of intense work and recovery isn’t sustainable. It’s also clearly an addictive pattern. But I’m too scared to admit that I don’t really know what a consistent healthy working life looks like. I’ve been an addictive compulsive worker my whole life because I never trust that I can rely on my good hours to be consistent. I gulp at each hour of feeling well like I’ll never get them again. The fear that this is my last shot at feeling well is palpable.

One of the most formative pieces of art in my narrative self is the movie Gattaca. In a dystopian future, children have their genes edited before they are born. The protagonist of the film “Vincent” played Ethan Hawke is an “old fashioned” human conceived without any edits. He has a heart condition and other frailties. His brother Anton was given edits. Despite being an “in-valid” Ethan Hawke is able to find his way in to a space program using contraband genetics. His brother is furious and cannot figure out how his disabled brother is able to beat him. This fraternal tension plays out in two swimming competitions. The invalid brother Vincent bests his genetically superior brother Anton. Twice. How did he do any of this!?!

“You wanna know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton; I never saved anything for the swim back!”

I really internalized this logic as a teenager. There is no gene for the human soul. Winning is not about being superior it’s about giving it your all. I bought this. So I never saved anything for the swim back. Except that maybe this is a shitty strategy for anything but races. That if you need more than to win a swimming match you can’t go all out every single day. That this is actually a strategy that will kill you.

Of course, I am petrified that this isn’t true and I should be swimming like Vincent every day. That he was right that greatness is forged in extreme effort. That I should give my all till I collapse. But then what?

I’m stuck in a behavioral pattern of self limiting fear that I must always be striving or I will literally be dead. It’s live at the edge till I win. But win what? Sometimes you fail. That’s how you learn. Failure is a crucial part of success. But if I am always swimming to failure I’ll never recover enough to learn from my failures. I’ll literally be dead in the water. So I’m stuck in this place of fear where I know I can’t always give my all but I don’t really yet believe that there is any other way to succeed.

Categories
Internet Culture Startups

Day 59 and Throwaway Days

The worst part of being in your thirties is no one tells you that won’t be able to sleep past 7am.

So this morning, right after sunrise, I’m plotting all the ways I’ll get to work on new projects today. Never waste a good Sunday. As if time has any meaning in the pandemic.

Here I am sliding back into workaholic ways, excited by the pace of change. But then you are reminded that routines and nutrition and supplements need to be done. So the tension between the allure of work and the practicality of needing to care for your body split. So I stop to mix a supplement smoothie and take some stuff. Then the sun is out so a hike up the front range trail is a must. Nutrition and exercise keeping the tension in check.

Maybe somedays it is ok to prioritize the long haul. The body that need to be strong for the next big shifts. That chaos is coming at us so fast a firm anchor for mind is a must. Techno-progressives need to believe in the positive outcome because we must cheerlead for a better future.

It’s nice to feel like even on throwaway days, you can cheer for all the outcomes