“Is this a date?” she asked with hint of smile.
“Depends on your definition of date,” he said. “How would you define a ‘date’?”
“A meeting held out of romantic interest,” she said. “Is this lunch out of romantic interest?”
“I don’t like that framing. The word ‘date’ gives me the tremors. It’s like an exam, adversarial, solemn. The two parties assess each other across the table, considering their suitability for lifetime partnership. If that’s what it’s going to be, please say no.”
Once in a while I have these really emotional dreams. One thought or feeling gets drawn from deep inside my brain and in the one minute, or the thirty seconds that the dream lasts for, the feeling permeates my entire mind. Usually there isn’t anything momentous in the dream; all that matters is that I had the thought in the dream. I wake up with the thought. Sometimes I don’t even remember the whole dream, just know that it left me with a strong feeling. It can have a lasting effect for the rest of the day.
It’s weird. A conscious, lucid thought or feeling I have in a dream does something to my psyche that it wouldn’t if it were a thought I had while awake. It’s like, the thought has direct access to the deep, subconscious parts of my brain, and it just stains it immediately, like dye.
Thursday morning I woke up at 4am after a dream. In the dream I was telling my mom about how I missed M. I woke up with a great sorrow weighing me down. I felt awake, 清醒, not the least bit sleepy at all. I felt a great loneliness. I missed her so much. I couldn’t imagine not missing her, not being lonely. It was like my brain was normally many threads, but only one of them was running this time of night, giving me this feeling of pure sorrow.
I couldn’t sleep, so I recorded myself on my tablet, talking. I talked about how people are like points on this infinite-dimensional space of possible minds, and how distant we all are from each other in this vast space. How was it that the one person who was closest to me in this space had gone?
Eventually I fell asleep again. In the morning all the threads in my brain were functioning again, and the feeling had gone.
Play is the essence of learning and creativity. The phenomenon of censoring and thresholding – sensible when one has attained a level of expertise in a subject – gets in the way of learning in a new domain. Why children learn faster is that going into a new activity, they have no threshold. They draw and write whatever they think of, while an adult throws away ten germs of ideas before they write a single word. Sometimes, the best way to get better is by doing lots.
It’s hard to recall states of mind without a prompt. Even when we have a specific memory cupped on the stage inside our head, we fall short of recreating the mind of five years ago. Our minds update, one part at a time, until it is completely renewed, and yet the change is imperceptible, as we feel we are the same person day-to-day.
I’m reminded this every time I read my diary again. I write in stream-of-consciousness; that helps. Had someone just told me to remember the memory, I would have remembered the memory, but not the me that was experiencing it.
The flow of thoughts is simply different from the way my thoughts flow now. There are millions of parameters that make people who they are. It’s impossible to capture the way a person is at a moment in time. There’s a huge gap between the fidelity with which I can see who I was, between just trying to remember, and reading my old diary entries. I can only imagine what the gap is between what the entry captures, and who I actually was.
To me, this is the most valuable thing about keeping a journal. Not the record of events – but to record, as much as possible, a state of mind. Writing is the closest thing we have. Sometimes, words are worth much more than pictures, because in a picture all you see is a smile, not the thoughts behind that smile.
What’s it mean to be socially adept, or well-adjusted socially? I’ve looked upon the word “social” with disdain, but maybe my lack of value-belief in it is because the “social” has been translated badly into my personal vocabulary. It’s another word like feminism or religion or altruism that means different things in the ideal and the institutionalized sense.
Someone was handing out brochures outside the student center. I took it as an automatic gesture, and was about to put it away, when I glanced at it. It was blank. I don’t like talking with people selling me stuff, but curiosity overcame my annoyance at having something pressed upon me, so I walked back and said, “Excuse me, this one is – ” and I saw that all the brochures he was holding were blank. He was grinning. I was suddenly afraid – anyone handing out blank brochures with a grin must be mentally ill, his smile could at any time become violent, and I should get out of his way. Before I did, though, he put his finger on the blank brochure, and said, “There’s something you want to do that you’re not doing, but I can’t tell you what it is.”
There are two kinds of humor and laughter. It’s similar to how feedback can be positive or negative.
- Positive laughter opens people up to new possibilities. Good stand-up comedians make jokes that expose stereotypes about race, sex, religion, etc. and in so doing make people think, “isn’t it stupid the way things are?” and “it doesn’t have to be this way.” It’s also the laughter between friends, building positive Hebbian connections in your neurons, “I want to do this again.”
- Negative laughter closes off possibilities. People laugh at someone who fails – and each such laugh is a censor that will prevent themselves from trying new things. Laughter in the face of an idea that someone proposes is a veto without an explanation. (And if a person introduces an idea with a laugh, it’s social insurance against the possible drop in reputation if others find it stupid, at the cost of the idea actually being considered seriously.) The quips that people in different fields make with each other are not so innocuous if they’re saying, “Your values are different from us, and I don’t think they’re as valuable as ours.”
I want to make sure that every time I laugh, it’s positive laughter.