Julien Baker

Come for the music. Stay for the wonderful writing.

“Even the most minute acts of acknowledgment communicate to another person that they are seen, that they matter; to care for another person is to affirm their worth. In our simplest gestures we find ways to pierce the superficial exterior of an often callous and isolated world, to exercise the compassion that draws us together.

Through every small kindness, we form attachments, construct a web of human connection, however tenuous. Thinking of this web, I wondered how many gestures like this a lifetime might contain, and that was both moving and devastating. I imagined the delicate thread spun from the spool of a person, weaving a tangled and imperceptible network through towns and continents, leaving little knots at every point of contact that tug us closer to each other, that makes us feel incrementally less alone.”

-Julien Baker, “Tiny Changes to Earth.” Oxford American. January 9, 2019.

“From childhood we are instilled with the ethics of generosity and equality—taught to take turns, to share, and to advocate for the weak. Simultaneously, we are indoctrinated with the covert certainty that unsuccessfulness is the result of laziness. It is important to be kind, but  more important to be productive. Our culture criminalizes poverty and stigmatizes welfare, critiques the greed of the super-wealthy while disapproving of programs that redistribute that wealth to provide for its citizens because of the entitlement an entire class feels to their own wealth. I remember hearing relatives argue against public health care with a decontextualized reference to Thessalonians: “if you don’t work you don’t eat,” and wondering how this draconian detachment from the plight of the unemployed could coexist with a professed belief in the value of compassion.We are taught to value mercy and grace alongside fairness, forgetting that often what is gracious, merciful, or compassionate is often not what is technically fair, at least by the Hammurabian standard of an eye for an eye.

This dichotomy of belief forms a functional cynicism, something that we tell ourselves we need to survive but which allows our adversity to become something that breeds resentment for others’ hardship instead of sympathy for it, and makes us reluctant to challenge a dominant system.

–Julien Baker, “A Familiar Stranger.Oxford American. November 8, 2018.

“Because I am a human who, like most humans, often does not seek out discomfort, this mostly occurs when my well-worn preconceptions are unexpectedly disrupted by someone with whom I would prefer not to engage. Still, I understand that part of emotional education is choosing not to opt out of these opportunities, to endure the friction of opposition and find what lesson in humility can be extracted. So I try to engage…

…Ruminating on the particularity of queer experience reminds me that there is no uniformity of belief or experience, in the LGBT community or in any other, and that the work of empathy demands unraveling my own presupposed paradigms, forcing myself to see people as a collection of their experiences, not as an embodiment of an ideal or principle. Practicing this within the context of a community I belong to and sympathize with becomes a skill that can be repurposed as empathy for those with whom I lack the ability or desire to understand.

Every day we are asked to live through immense, painful, and causeless things as if it were not an incredible feat. Our mental apparatus, made up of all our ideologies, convictions, superstitions, and personal mythologies, develops out of necessity to make sense of those things that are beyond our capacity to comprehend. Identifying how that apparatus formed in another person cannot nullify pain or negate wrong, it can only give us tools to be more merciful in our interpretations of others.”

-Julien Baker, “Learning Mercy.” Oxford American. June 14, 2018.

Really, just read them all.

The Burrito Test

“The anti-psychiatric-abuse community has invented the ‘Burrito Test’ – if a place won’t let you microwave a burrito without asking permission, it’s an institution. Doesn’t matter if the name is “Center For Flourishing” or whatever and the aides are social workers in street clothes instead of nurses in scrubs – if it doesn’t pass the Burrito Test, it’s an institution.”

–Scott Alexander, “Book Review: The Cult Of Smart
Summary and commentary on The Cult Of Smart by Fredrik DeBoer
.” Astral Codex Ten. February 17, 2021.

World Wisdom Map

“The World Wisdom Map is a unique project to document the life lessons and stories of people from each of the 195 countries in the world. This consciousness project combines visual, and wisdom anthropology that exists in the world and further sparks awareness about the diversity of lifestyles, as well as the coping mechanism that people employ to create a meaningful life. Using the tool of technology, it is easier to connect and exchange information to ignite hope and global participation in an unbiased and creative way. This collation and exhibition of human wisdom invites you to engage, contribute and learn from in an artistic and interactive way.”

World Wisdom Map

If you are willing to dig around a bit, there’s a few gems in this World Wisdom Map. I liked this one:

“I’ve learned that how we choose to suffer makes all the difference. Suffering is, perhaps, inevitable, but I now see it as a cave that I learn to enter with courage, have tea with the monsters there, only to realize they aren’t monsters, they are parts of me [shriveled] from fear, that need to remember what light looks like. It takes time of just sitting with it, compassionately when possible.”

Sara Sibai (32), Lebanon

Minorities vs. Majorities

“Today, as then, public opinion is the omnipresent tyrant; today, as then, the majority represents a mass of cowards, willing to accept him who mirrors its own soul and mind poverty. That accounts for the unprecedented rise of a man like [Teddy] Roosevelt. He embodies the very worst element of mob psychology. A politician, he knows that the majority cares little for ideals or integrity. What it craves is display. It matters not whether that be a dog show, a prize fight, the lynching of a ‘nigger,’ the rounding up of some petty offender, the marriage exposition of an heiress, or the acrobatic stunts of an ex-president. The more hideous the mental contortions, the greater the delight and bravos of the mass. Thus, poor in ideals and vulgar of soul, Roosevelt continues to be the man of the hour. On the other hand, men towering high above such political pygmies, men of refinement, of culture, of ability, are jeered into silence as mollycoddles. It is absurd to claim that ours is the era of individualism. Ours is merely a more poignant repetition of the phenomenon of all history: every effort for progress, for enlightenment, for science, for religious, political, and economic liberty, emanates from the minority, and not from the mass. Today, as ever, the few are misunderstood, hounded, imprisoned, tortured, and killed.”

-Emma Goldman, “Minorities Versus Majorities.” Anarchism and Other Essays. 1911.

Zuihitsu: 2020-08-08 to 2020-12-31

  • A great meeting has three key elements: the options, desired outcome, and the roles of the participants are clear.
  • Solitude is freedom from inputs from other minds.
  • Insanity is relative. It depends on who has who locked in what cage.—Ray Bradbury
  • Life is a game that is played on a five-inch field — the distance between your ears. —apologies to Bobby Jones, the American golfer.
  • There’s a market for confirming people’s opinion and not for the truth.
  • The catastrophe we think will happen has in fact already happened.—Donald Winnicott
  • An engaged practice does not permit unengaged labels and objectification.
  • Perfection and beauty are created by happiness.
  • Be there when the stillness comes.
  • “Discipline is choosing between what you want now, and what you want most.”—Abraham Lincoln
  • Between sense and nonsense, there is no right or wrong.
  • Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the Will.—Nietzsche
  • Dangerous grifter-led subcultures generally appeal to “lost young men.”
  • Make the revolution irresistible.—Toni Cade Bambara
  • There are two religions in the world: the religion of being right and the religion of being in love, and you can’t be a member of both at the same time.
  • A decrease in common sense and an increase in superstition and gullibility are infallible signs of alienation.
  • Changez vos amis.
  • There can be no separate survival.
  • Hold faith with the sun in a sunless place.
  • Broaden definition enough and you make a sieve of meaning.
  • People are myopic.
  • Every job looks easy when you aren’t the one doing it.—Jeff Immelt
  • Münchhausen Trilemma, when asked for more proof the end is either circular, regressive, or dogmatic.
  • Don’t be afraid to take. Takers never worry about taking too much. If you worry, then you aren’t solely a taker. Relax about it.
  • Kind and reasonable people using coalition-building, science, and determination to solve problems. Are you in that room?
  • The prior can often only be understood in the context of the likelihood.
  • With distance, every conflict seems solvable and senseless.
  • Stories not explanations.
  • Truth only comes at the end of the line.
  • Find a place of radical expression and acceptance.
  • Ignore the bullshit of the day.
  • Apocalypse is the suburb of utopia.
  • The land of the possible has many paths, and we can know only one.
  • It’s possible to be both empathetic and strong.
  • Pictures, luggages and life; everything’s impermanent.
  • A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance.
  • Morals are like aesthetics, best left for interpretation.
  • Living under the constant threat of destruction.
  • ”A trip through a sewer in a glass-bottomed boat.”—Wilson Mezner on time spent in Hollywood
  • The labor of thought, the labor of writing and the labor in reality builds our character.
  • Everything is a delibrate construction.
  • Analog shuts out digital distractions.
  • Look for the extraordinary intruding on ordinary life.
  • Strip away complexity and simplify.
  • Humility is thinking of yourself less.
  • One person’s apocalypse is another person’s day-to-day.
  • Knowing isn’t doing.
  • Stupid cannot be educated.
  • One person with a mind and knows it can always beat ten people who haven’t and don’t.
  • Take the trouble to find the right thing to say, then say it with levity.
  • Desperate people do desperate things.
  • Right don’t come to you doing wrong.
  • LOVE, life’s only valid expression.
  • What is conversation for? One answer: leaving the other person better off emotionally.
  • Start with something that works.
  • Pain is the body registering a departure from what it regards as “normal.” If you can train yourself to think of pain as normal, then the pain will cease to exist.
  • Serve the material.
  • The dynamics of the high school clique are social dynamics everywhere.
  • Respect the individual.
  • People want to believe in something, even if it is false.
  • Every road is new.
  • Our lives are measured not by gain but by giving.
  • Don’t share opinions on topics that have low thresholds to having opinions and where there is little to differentiate them.
  • Don’t run towards ruin.
  • Only the dead are without fear.
  • The meaning we overlay onto our experience is primary of our many manufactured fictions.
  • Every signal has a cost. No costs; no need to communicate it.
  • Don’t feed the mouth that bites you.
  • Your fantasies have cursed your realities.
  • Ask a question. Find forty answers.
  • It’s too dark at night to wonder around with your eyes closed.
  • Do the small thing.
  • Create fun and a little weirdness. —Zappos motto
  • Change the initial conditions.
  • Puzzles over facts.
  • The people that need to read, don’t.
  • Wipe your feet at the door. Meaning: Your personal business shouldn’t be a problem for your business.
  • Power yields nothing without demand.
  • If it’s important and you stop, someone else will do it.
  • If you wish to know something, pay it careful attention.
  • Humanity is rife with brand and tribal loyalty.
  • Pragmatism > Culture Defense Warrior
  • A vantage point can only be occupied by one person at a time.
  • Better to try and fail than do nothing.
  • Be present in the present.
  • Invite the witness inside.
  • There is no final, fixed answer.
  • Keep increasing the number of sensed experience per second until the illusion of continuity shatters.
  • Intellect subs for faith. Faith subs for wisdom. Wisdom subs for both intellect and faith.
  • Balance and strengthen. Strengthen and balance.
  • Cities are full of weird, wonderful people, and people can teach us a lot.
  • Every experience can be a source of wisdom.
  • Labels not stories. Stories provide unnecessary detail that is wrong. Labels bypass thought.
  • Sick leaders attract sick followers.
  • Selection effects are everything.
  • Ideological conflict has no easy solutions.
  • It’s expensive to be both comfortable and to appear virtuous.
  • No one wants to be reincarnated as the fly eating poop.
  • It is better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.—Warren Buffett
  • It’s easier to train an expert to manage well than to train a manager to be an expert.
  • World-class talent wants to work for and with other world-class talent, or As hire other As, Bs hire Cs. Cs don’t hire As or Bs.
  • Wiping your mouth (or your ass) with paper isn’t making it clean.
  • Mine is classy, yours is crassy.
  • The measure of government is how many quiet tragedies it has authored.
  • Class and demographic biases rule over expertise.
  • Happiness is the difference between what you have, and your definition of enough.
  • Boats rowing the stream are harder work, but frequently have better company.
  • There are ways to eliminate suffering in ourselves and others. We need only discover and master them.
  • Advice requires context. What is good for the grey beard isn’t good for the novice.
  • Can you apologize for someone else?
  • Wanting things to be different (which includes wanting them to remain the same) is the cause of suffering.
  • Thinking blocks experiencing, like seeing an image taken with a camera rather than using your eyes.
  • Labels define culture, personally and socially.
  • Tests check but also drive performance.
  • Bridge the gap.
  • Don’t be The Other for people to define themselves against if you can help it.
  • Keeping free time scarce means keeping people unambitious and increases the market for convenience, gratification, and any other form of relief.
  • To be is to be related.
  • Socratic method: Let them talk. Ask questions. Let them expose their ignorance. Do not cheer when that happens.
  • Dread is lack of agency.
  • Spend over a year with no address.
  • Check if there’s a Japanese camping version.
  • Be more curious.
  • Social interaction in any medium is always a balance between self-expression and the accommodation of others.
  • Simple pastiches reign, signs of humanity’s lack of imagination.
  • Pursuing one kind of truth tends to obscure other kinds.
  • Many visions, many maps.
  • Your priorities are reflected in where you spend your money.
  • What ordinary thing has become invisible to you?
  • Practice analytically, perform intuitively.
  • Keep complexity in mind, enough to drive good decision-making.
  • You’re never too young to die.
  • Five big things instead of 500 half-assed things.
  • Cultivate an obsessive desire to make the world a weirder place.
  • Float to the top or sink to the bottom. Everything in the middle is the churn.—Amos in Season 5, Episode 2
  • Nobody really saves anyone. She taught me how to save myself.
  • Just because someone’s the underdog doesn’t mean they are the good guy.
  • Not every stain comes out.
  • Philanthropy is scooping soup, not solving the problem of soup lines.
  • Everyone has an eye on the self.
  • Every choice rules out a panoply of others.
  • Following models or trying to discover yourself avoids the hard work of creation, the difference between prefab or bespoke.
  • Education is sticking around until you get it.
  • We see what we need to see in other people.
  • The greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
  • The brave find their courage in adversity.
  • You do not have to be good.
  • Support people not projects or ideologies.
  • Every childhood is strange in its own way.
  • People are not composed entirely of their facts.
  • Save what you can save.
  • Turn yourself away from what you think is happening so that you can see what is really happening.
  • The worries of others are a largely unknown landscape.
  • See people as their best and most complete selves.

Decide to K.I.S.S.

“…irrelevant information or unavailable options often cause people to make bad choices. When both elements are present, the probability of a poor decision is even greater.”

—Chadd, I., Filiz-Ozbay, E. & Ozbay, E.Y. “The relevance of irrelevant information.” Experimental Economics. November 11, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10683-020-09687-3

Determining what is possible and the relevant information between choices is key to good decision-making. It’s obvious, but at the same time, it’s something worth keeping in the forefront of our minds when making decisions.

The Space Between the Notes

Brouk in 2017, the year she died, on how she started making music: “I found one note that I loved and I played that note again and again and again. And I just listened. Put the sustain pedal down and just listened to the overtones. And I just played that note til I heard the next note, and the next note, and then eventually I would hear a melody. So I taught myself to play, and it wasn’t just the notes. It was the space between notes.”

—Ann Friedman, “The space between“. The Ann Friedman Weekly. December 4, 2020.

How to Think For Yourself

“It matters a lot who you surround yourself with. If you’re surrounded by conventional-minded people, it will constrain which ideas you can express, and that in turn will constrain which ideas you have. But if you surround yourself with independent-minded people, you’ll have the opposite experience: hearing other people say surprising things will encourage you to, and to think of more.

Because the independent-minded find it uncomfortable to be surrounded by conventional-minded people, they tend to self-segregate once they have a chance to. The problem with high school is that they haven’t yet had a chance to. Plus high school tends to be an inward-looking little world whose inhabitants lack confidence, both of which magnify the forces of conformism. And so high school is often a bad time for the independent-minded. But there is some advantage even here: it teaches you what to avoid. If you later find yourself in a situation that makes you think “this is like high school,” you know you should get out.

—Paul Graham, “How to Think For Yourself.” PaulGraham.com. November 2020.

How Many Summers Are Left?

“I ask Grant Heslov about his friend’s decision to step back from acting, to direct and otherwise live his life. ‘This is how he put it to me when I was trying to do something during the summer recently,’ Heslov says by way of an explanation. He says Clooney proposed an exercise. ‘Let’s sit down and try to figure out how many summers we have left,’ Clooney said. ‘Let’s say we were 55 at the time. So let’s say we have 25 more summers left—25 years, 25 summers. That doesn’t seem like that many if you lose a whole summer, right?’”

-Zach Baron, “George Clooney When We Need Him Most.” GQ. November 17, 2020.

Reminded me of Warren Buffet’s 20 Slot Rule and Wait But Why‘s Your Life in Weeks. Also, there’s this chart from the CDC. If you make it to 65 years of age, you’re more likely to live longer than average. Obvious, when you think about it, but it’s still a point worth remembering.