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Beats, blood, and blackness

The Kendrick v Drake beef is over. Kendrick won, handily. So why am I still thinking about it?

It seems that everyone I talk to is either really invested, or not invested at all. To those of you who can’t stop thinking about this (like me): why is that? Are we complicit in the very things that Kendrick (and other artists) has been pointing to?And to those of you who aren't invested at all: you should be.

The people in the “not invested” camp would retort that this is just another petty feud between two celebrities. It is almost reminiscent of the “shut up and dance” or “shut up and dribble” attitude that we give celebrities. You are there to entertain us, we don’t care about your pride or your politics.

But do we really want them to go back to making algorithmically-compliant music that people can dance to, and make more money for the record labels? This is exactly what the feud is about. Among many things, Kendrick accuses Drake of making pop music; Drake accuses Kendrick of being exploited by his record label ("drop and give me 50" from Push Ups refers to the 50% take on his contract).

The holier-than-thou attitude from the naysayers is ironic. This is a cultural reckoning, and we're ignoring what's at stake by giving our attention to their dance hits more than their voices. Is there anything more frivolous than to produce algorithmically-compliant music that people can dance to, and so that we can make more money for record labels?

Andre 3000 snuck this line into Outkast’s knee-slapping dance hit, “Hey Ya!”, and while we were shaking it like a Polaroid picture, we overlooked a deeper message when he says: “You don’t want to hear me, you just want to dance.” To denigrate this moment is to be complicit.

What motivates these diss tracks is partially pride and honor, which I would argue is much more interesting purpose for music, than to to serve some booty-shaking. This is an honest feud rendered in a musical number. There is nothing else in real life that remotely resembles the gang fight scene in West Side Story. This is as close as it gets, folks.

One of the shots fired by Drake was that Kendrick’s latest album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, didn’t hit big numbers on the charts. “SZA got you wiped down/Travis got you wiped down, Savage got you wiped down.” But Kendrick’s position has always been that he doesn’t care about the “pop” numbers, he cares only about pushing the rap genre beyond just sex, drugs, and violence, and he’ll do it unapologetically, as repeated in the chorus of Crown, “I can’t please everybody.” And he does it again in one of his diss tracks, specifically in contrast to Drake’s pursuit of hitting numbers, “I'm allergic to the lame shit, only you like bein' famous.”

For context, Mr. Morale is his most vulnerable and self-reflective album to date, with songs about the acceptance of his transgender family members, his grappling with infidelity and sex addiction, and his reflections on toxic masculinity. I've listened to it at least ten times since this battle started, and fell in love with the depth of the album in ways that I hadn't heard before. What other rap album samples quotes from Eckhart Tolle about our conception of a human being?

If you still think that beef is petty nonsense, and I can understand why if maybe all you heard were Drake’s jokes about Kendrick’s height, and marital problems. But look deeper and you'll find Kendrick’s assertion that Drake exploits and profits off of Black culture as an intellectually stimulating topic. It's a beat that Kendrick stomps on repeatedly in both “euphoria” and “Not Like Us.”

In euphoria, Kendrick repeats “I even hate when you say the word n***a." As my friend explains it:

... he's revealing that Drake is inhabiting spaces that he doesn't understand and has no credit to (i.e. African American identity). The fact that Drake turns around and calls Kendrick racist compounds this the idea. By pulling Drake s "N word card" it's like Kendrick is saying you don't have a right to that word not because of his biracial identity but because of his performance of American blackness. That word is distinctly American.

Drake is in a privileged position of being able to occupy both black and white spaces (see Drake’s early career in TV show Degrassi), and being able to reap the benefits of both implies also being disingenuous in both. We see this in Kendrick’s line in euphoria: “I hate when a rapper talk about guns, then somebody die, they turn into nuns,/Then hop online like ‘Pray for my city,’ he fakin' for likes and digital hugs.”

Over the years, Drake has been called a "culture vulture" for good reason. He'll co-sign artists to socially profit by association and to wedge his way into those cultural circles. He'll adopt different accents to change our perception of who he is. Take a look at Vox's explainer of why Drake adopted a Jamaican accent.

In euphoria, Kendrick invokes the authority from the center of the object being appropriated: “notice I said ‘we’/it’s not just me/I’m what the culture’s feeling.” This feud is not about who the best rapper is; it’s about who’s real and who’s fake, and more importantly, a larger question about the extractive nature of capitalism going beyond the exploitation of financial and political resources.

In Kendrick’s Not Like Us, there is an explicit verse here about the exact ways in which Drake has exploited individual people for social profit:

Once upon a time, all of us was in chains
Homie still doubled down callin' us some slaves
Atlanta was the Mecca, buildin' railroads and trains
Bear with me for a second, let me put y'all on game
The settlers was usin' townfolk to make 'em richer
Fast-forward, 2024, you got the same agenda
You run to Atlanta when you need a check balance
Let me break it down for you, this the real n****a challenge
You called Future when you didn't see the club (Ayy, what?)
Lil Baby helped you get your lingo up (What?)
21 gave you false street cred
Thug made you feel like you a slime in your head (Ayy, what?)
Quavo said you can be from Northside (What?)
Chainz say you good, but he lied
You run to Atlanta when you need a few dollars
No, you not a colleague, you a fuckin' colonizer

I can’t write about all the really interesting thought-provoking questions that this feud has produced for me, but this is all to say that it's easy to dismiss as gossip. I was too young and naive to see the Meghan Markel exit from the monarchy as more than just celebrity gossip about rich families, and I admit that I overlooked the more interesting questions about the history of royal families’s relationship with people of color, and the intricacies involved in how monarchies modernize (or fail to, in that matter). There is so much richness that we are dismissing if we only see this feud at face value.

To those who ARE deeply invested in this feud: this is an opportunity for us to see this beyond it being another gladiatorial sport in which entertainers are dehumanized into more entertainment. We have to think more deeply about what our gaze signifies.

J.Cole, who started off in this three-way feud, left the chat really early, and apologized for entering the fray at all, with a prescient warning that we will devolve into further dehumanizing entertainers: “N****s wanna see blood.”

This reminds me of Dave Chappelle stepping away from The Chappelle Show upon seeing the bigger picture, when he realized that he was borderline legitimizing blackface comedy for white people to laugh at. Letterman asks him about the specific sketch in question and what it was about. Chappelle describes it as such:

The sketch wasn't that bad. It's actually funny. It was a pixie. It was me dressed in blackface who'd pop up anytime a person felt the pains of racism, which is a tough trick to pull off. It's not a bad sketch, but hearing the wrong laugh, while you're dressed that way, it makes you feel shame.

His laughter struck Chappelle as wrong, and he wondered if the new season of his show had gone from sending up stereotypes to merely reinforcing them. "When he laughed, it made me uncomfortable," says Chappelle. "As a matter of fact, that was the last thing I shot before I told myself I gotta take f______ time out after this. Because my head almost exploded."

And even more topically, Childish Gambino, released a new music video, Little Foot Big Foot, wherein the crowd isn’t invested in the performers until there was violence (someone from the crowd unintentionally shoots himself), and the crowd goes wild for the performers after that. This is supposed to be interpreted as the commodification of violence and trauma. I’m not sure if it applies to every situation (in the news industry, “if it bleeds, it leads.”), or if it’s specifically about the exploitation of artists, or the lack of attention of black culture specifically until there is violence.

Let's not be here to watch the violence, let's be here to listen to the voices.

I'm not even sure what the call to action would be after paying so much attention to this feud. I'm Team Kendrick, and on top of adding immeasurable album-equivalent units to Kendrick's sales, and over a dozen listens of Mr. Morale, I hope he's hearing that I'm respecting his bodies of work and the more vulnerable topics, not just the dance hits. The last thing I want is for Kendrick to resign to expressing his feelings by flute. I also wrote my feelings in a blog. This is armchair activism at its finest.

So I don't know what comes next. Drake is showing he's not indomitable, and his next hit will be met with more critical audience from me. I'll be quicker to notice other cultural exploitations, and the next time that Drake the Colonizer buys another cultural artifact from rap and hip hop.

Evidently, there's so much fodder for thought, but I think at end of all of this, my biggest takeaway is this: Stop dancing and listen.

(Special thanks to Alex Shiluk for edits and comments)

Forget gratitude journals, try chain journaling

I invented a new form of gratitude journaling, called chain journaling

I have been feeling creative lately. Generously generative.

One of the reasons is because I started pondering more about the causal chains that trigger butterfly effects and catalyze domino effects. I've been scrawling a lot of journal entries lately in a bound notebook, and a prominent pattern has been my reflections on how certain events or decisions led to something else to happen.

I'm calling this "chain journaling" because it interlinks events in our recent memories in causal chains.

I'll give you an example:

  • If I hadn’t gone to volunteer for the ultramarathon in Auburn, I wouldn’t have returned home with 50 leftover burritos to give away
  • If I didn't have 50 burritos to give away, I wouldn't have formerly met some of my street's tent residents that night, and felt extra sociable
  • If I hadn't felt sociable that night, I wouldn't have met my new friends E&V in my building in our common area (which led to a 2 hour chat until 1:00 am!)
  • If I hadn’t met E&V, they wouldn't have invited me to join their small group doing The Artist's Way (fortunately, they just had started!)
  • If I hadn't done The Artist's Way and joined those weekly phone calls, I wouldn’t have been close enough to be cat-sitting for them while they went camping last weekend
  • If I hadn’t cat-sat for them, I wouldn’t have been able to meet their female friend at a door-key hand-off
  • If I hadn’t met her, I wouldn’t have been passed a second-hand compliment (E: “she told me to tell you she thinks you’re cute even though she already has a partner”)
  • If I hadn't gotten that compliment, I wouldn't be feelin' myself so hard this weekend
  • If I hadn't been so self-confident this weekend, then ... etc etc

I could trace this timeline even further forward or backward at any given moment, but usually I'm going backwards in time from a recent happening.

My favorite thing about chain journaling is that it really helps me cherish how much one thing precipitates another. I don't worry about whether things are genuinely interconnected. I'll seize whatever flap of a butterfly's wings and conjure my own butterfly effect. It is a practice of both observation and imbuing meaning.

But more importantly, chain journaling helps me appreciate the fruitfulness of an ostensibly standalone moment in time. Every small thing can topple the dominoes to something even grander. The fertility of every fleeting event is spine-tinglingly beautiful, and I love starting every morning of my day with the mindset that something today could blossom to something magnificent down the road.

Here's another "chain journal" I reflected on:

  • If I hadn't been gifted a complimentary print New Yorker subscription from my friend, I wouldn't have made it a goal to read it every week
  • If I hadn't aspired to read it every week, I wouldn't have been cultivated a habit to read the magazine at The Stable Cafe every Saturday morning
  • If I hadn't been at that cafe that one morning, I wouldn't have met one of my new recent best friends, M
  • If I hadn't met M, we wouldn't have hosted this joint birthday party with 80 guests (where I've met so many new friends!)
  • If I hadn't met that particular new friend... etc etc.

Journaling like this is incredibly generative, because I can either trace further back in time and connect more things, or I can diverge at different points in the chain and start a new branch in the chain.

Another aspect that I love about chain journaling is that it makes it easier to be grateful for the people in my life, because I can see that they are entangled with something greater (e.g., "If you hadn't needed to use that bathroom that one time, XYZ wouldn't have happened...").

Chain journaling has helped draw meaningful constellations from the formerly punctilate picture of my cosmos. It interweaves events together. I've been really benefiting from meditating on the possibilities our lives hold at any moment in time. I'm starting to say yes to more things, as a mutual effort to co-create with what the universe is giving me. Woo.

In an hour, E&V are taking me on a field trip to their favorite grocery store. Who knows what will spring from that!

A letter to the people who nearly crippled me

1: observations

At 12:59 PM PST on March 11th, 2024, you violently swerved your white sedan into the bike lane that I was in. Luckily, I managed to skid my Lyft bike to avoid your car pinching me against the other parked car on the right.

In my rage, I caught up with your car to confront you at the next stop light, and you showed no remorse. Not even an apology. In fact, you were blaming ME for somehow getting your way.

The man in your passenger seat opened his door as if to scare me with a physical confrontation, but I was so angry, I wanted to fight. I wanted nothing more than to show you the same savage disregard for human life that you had shown me. But I know that violence only begets more violence. I wish I could make you understand what a split second could have done to my life, and even as I'm writing this, I don't know if words could ever be enough.

But to break the cycle of violence, I'll try anyway.

2: feelings

In the moments after our near-collision, I wasn't scared for my life. You made me scared for something much worse: A life where I couldn't move. I derive a lot of my identity from my able-bodiedness. I run, climb, bike, snowboard, hike, walk, swim, and dance. These make me feel alive.

Near-accidents like this force me to confront my able-bodied privilege in a way that makes me uncomfortable. Who am I, if not a person who moves?

I've had a small ankle injury a few years ago, and I fell into a victim mindset that led me to three years of a sedentary lifestyle, which spiraled into more and more disability and unhealthiness. Luckily, I snapped out of it. I know that I am much happier now when I get to celebrate life every day through unencumbered and pain-free movement.

What I'm trying to say is that I have a history of not handling injuries well.

When you almost hit me the other day, it horrified me to imagine a life deprived of my physical pursuits. I would grow plump and soft in a wheelchair or a couch, merely spectating everything I envisioned for my own life. New lovers dancing together on the pier. Happy parents riding bikes with their children with the summer evening breeze on their necks. Runners and climbers and hikers pushing their mental and physical limits. That near accident made me afraid that I would spiral downwards until I become overwhelmingly depressed that I am merely living a shell of a life.

But you wouldn't know any of this if you had hit me.

This is why I am angry. There was no remorse from you. You didn't acknowledge the accident was your fault. I don't think you understood your impact if you had hit me.

I'm angry knowing that you will drive away from this thinking you don't have to change anything about your driving. And I'm angry because someone else will have a bike accident with you, and everything I said above will be someone else's story instead of mine. I am angry because of the injustice in our system, that people like you can walk away from this completely unscathed.

3: needs

I need you to understand that there is unjust asymmetry between a driver and a cyclist. You are in a metal box designed to protect you against a collision from other metal boxes. My flesh and bones couldn't damage the even cosmetic parts of your car if I tried.

But you don’t have to completely crush a human body to ruin their life. You have to remember that athletes will frequently rupture ligaments in their knee just by pivoting around a basketball court. A driver can do more damage by parallel parking.

I need you to help me and other cyclists feel safe. If you enjoy car-centric culture, I might suggest you move to Houston, Dallas or Los Angeles. (I personally could never live there). Being able to walk or bike in a city makes me feel engaged and creative. Walking under a row of trees makes me feel lovely in a way that driving doesn't. I love the autonomy of being able to go anywhere with my feet or a quick Lyft bike. It is an expression of my individuality and my independence. In the future, I'd love to be able to run/walk my baby in a stroller, or bike with my toddler mounted in the back without fear of them dying.

I'd love to know how you feel alive. I'd love to know how you feel engaged with the world around you, and when you feel safe enough to be creative. And I'd love to contribute to that somehow.

4: requests

I humbly ask that you put yourself in my shoes, and empathize with me. So, I have two requests for you.

First, watch this video . These are accidents solely related to a driver opening their car door, and I wanted to show you this because these are just car vs. human accidents where the car is stationary. And while you watch it, I'd like for you to imagine if it happened to you.

Second request: After you watch that video, I want you to ditch your car for a month, and ride your bike everywhere in the city. I'll even let you borrow my bike. I just want you to understand that as a cyclist there are 10 ways to die every single minute.

Please just remember that shaving a few seconds (yes, seconds!) off of your commute isn't worth potentially ruining the rest of someone's life.

I care about your feelings. I care about your role in your friends and family's lives. I care about your hopes and dreams for this one life that you have. All I ask that you care about mine, too.

How to start running: A biochemical perspective

I started running seriously last year, coming from basically no aerobic base. I think I made big improvements in a short amount of time, and it's largely because of how I focused my training.

There are 3 main modalities of training:

  1. Mechanical - musculoskeletal, kinetic patterns, strength, flexibility
  2. Mental - attitude, discipline, patience
  3. Metabolic - energy sources (fat vs sugar), organelles, biochemistry

I've ordered this list below in order of what people tend to focus on the most, and at the bottom is what I think is under-appreciated.

People forget that their body is basically a big biochemical bag, and often neglect the metabolic aspects of training. Biochemical load is just as important as mechanical load, especially when it comes to long distance running.

This past season, I've focused on running through a metabolic perspective, so a lot of my running tips will be focused on that. But since I was coming from zero, I've also sprinkled in some tips for avoiding injuries (mechanical).

What is "load"

Mechanical load is pretty simple: The load of a squat, for example, is weight * reps (or: force * distance). Your fitness increase is your body's response or adaptation to the load (over days long recovery period). Mechanically, this could look like more neural recruitment, more muscle fibers being rebuilt, etc.

Biochemical load is similar: The load is how much your body is (for example) deprived of energy, and your body's response is the compensation to that energy deprivation. Your fitness increases because your cells have to figure out a way to make more energy.

In the simplest example, imagine an athlete doing high altitude training: The load is oxygen deprivation and the body responds by making more red blood cells to transport more oxygen to the muscles.

Think if your training like that. You need to deprive your muscles of energy (by exerting energy), and you get better at running as a result.

1) Run slow to run more

The biggest mistake most runners make is that they're running too hard during their easy runs. I spent my first month doing extremely slow running in order to keep my heart rate at Zone 2. It was frustrating, and frankly, it hurt my ego to even be seen in public running that slow. My watch kept beeping: "you're creeping into Zone 3!"

It all paid off in the end, and it will for you, too. Just trust the process. The more you run slow, the faster you'll be at it (to a certain extent). You'll notice your pace getting faster at the same heart rate. That's a biochemical adaptation. Your muscles are making more mitchondria, and tells your heart, "hey you don't have to pump so much blood, I got this 💪." It even makes more smaller blood vessels around your muscles so it can deliver more energy! Cool, right?

(When I started running, my Z2 was at 10:45/mile... six months later my Z2 went to 7:50/mile)

There are LOTS of benefits to running slow:

  • Much lower injury rate. There's less ground impact force of your feet hitting the ground.
  • Recovery is short. It's far easier to run the next day when your body has fully recovered from the day before. My mantra was "I run today in a way such that I can run tomorrow." It's far easier to get higher volume training with easy running 5 days a week, rather than moderately hard running every other day. Volume comes from frequency, not intensity.
  • It's more social. You can run with people and have a conversation. Most people actually can't run and talk at Zone 2 (some people's Zone 2 is speed walking) but once you train consistently enough for 1-2 months, you can run and talk at the same time.
  • You burn more fat. Low intensity running uses fat as the energy substrate. This is the ultimate goal of any long distance runner. There are 200,000 calories of fat your body can use; there are only 2,000 calories of glycogen (which is used in higher intensity runs). By the way, burning fat does NOT mean you will have less fat on your body. Sorry.

2) "Sprint" uphill to avoid injuries

You should do sprints. In running fitness, you want to raise the floor, AND raise the ceiling. Slow runs "raise the floor" (your slow runs get faster). Sprints "raise the ceiling" (the maximum work output, period). When you run, you'll exist somewhere between the floor and the ceiling, so move both.

(Btw: If slow running makes more mitochondria in your muscles, then high intensity enlarges those mitochondria.)

But as a beginner, you should do sprints uphill. This is to avoid injury. It's not about how fast you're actually going, it's about – say it with me– the biochemical load! You can jog up a hill and it'll feel just as hard as sprinting on a flat track. The difference is that there is half as much ground impact force jogging up a hill. It's the same ground impact force as walking, but with all the mechanical and metabolic benefits of sprinting. This is a neat trick that lots of runners do to avoid injury and have longevity in their training.

Btw, the opposite is true: running downhill has MORE ground impact force and increases your risk of injury by a lot. It also has no metabolic benefit (because all the work is done by gravity). So just be extra careful on those downhills and use them as your recovery between your sprints.

3) More work could mean better recovery

This is counter-intuitive, but running an extra easy mile at the end of a high-intensity workout makes it much easier for your body to recover.

Have you ever watched the Tour de France documentaries and you see the cyclists doing more riding on a stationary bike AFTER a stage? You're probably thinking, "why aren't they conserving their energy for the next stage?" This is because they produced a ton of lactate from the stage, and they need to do easy riding so that their muscles eat up that lactate (for energy), and not let it accumulate so they can stay fresh for the next stage. This is way more effective than a Theragun at "flushing out lactate."

So, if you're doing some sprints, or any other kind of threshold/anaerobic work, make sure you spend an extra 10 minutes with easy running afterwards so that your muscles eats up all the lactate that it's producing. It makes recovery so much faster.

4) Time not distance

Throw out the training plans that are based on distance. They are all working back from the ultimate goal (some distance-based race), but distance is a loose proxy for the amount of biochemical load that is put on your body.

Instead, focus on the amount of time you're running. I have some loose rules in my training plan. For building an aerobic base, there are only two durations never change: 40-60 minutes for a base run, and 20-30 minutes for a recovery run. (Do all of these at Zone 2 unless you're really dead tired, do Zone 1.)

I almost never look at distance. Personally, I don't think anything less than 30 minutes is productive for training. If you can't do more than 30 minutes, then decrease your intensity until you can. I've noticed 50 minutes is my sweet spot (I can do this every day, and I still get faster).

Time is a kinder metric to measure yourself against. Your biochemical load is just stimulus x time, anyway. Your mitochondria don't count distance.

Just as marinading meat, time is what gets you deep flavors. Zone 2 is your marinade, so just focus on clocking in the time.

5) You have to strengthen smaller muscles

Please respect the teamwork required of every muscle that lets you run. The smallest muscles in your feet, ankles, lower calves are important even though it's the big muscles that feel sore most of the time.

I highly recommend buying barefoot/minimal shoes (like vivobarefoot) and wearing them throughout the day, walking to work, and even taking them on smaller easy runs. This will teach your feet to re-engage the small muscles. Don't believe me? Try it for a day and you will notice how sore your legs will be in places you didn't know could get sore. It will stop hurting eventually.

This will bulletproof you for the high-load workouts where you need to really push yourself.

Have fun!

2023 Annual Letter

Happy holidays, friends.

Phenology refers to the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate, plant, and animal life cycles. I love writing an annual letter every year because it's like a phenology of the self. Some themes are cyclically recurring in my life. Some energies bloom, some wilt. All life is change, which is a beautiful immune system for the thing I dread most: repetitive stagnancy. I'm grateful that new challenges and new surprises are built into this experience.

Looking back at the year: 2023 felt like... cabin respite energy. I predict 2024 vibes will reflect the fact that I've recharged.

Also, if I haven't seen or heard from you in a while, I want to change that. Let's be more active in making our paths cross, be it San Diego, Seattle, France, Kenya, Australia, wherever. I'm sure we can make this work 😄

2023 in 23 big bullets

I. Updates

1/ 2023 was a recovery year for me. I was slowly killing myself with work for the past two years and lost many things along the way, including my fitness, my mental and physical health, my libido, my energy, and my openness to risk. Last year, I told my team that I'm consciously taking a step back from work to make it more sustainable, and they were supportive. I've reclaimed my nights and weekends, I've turned off all work notifications on my phone, and accepted that I can't do everything. The world keeps turning, and I am smiling more, dancing more, and get to think more creatively. It's magical what an extra breathing room can do.

2/ I saw a doctor for the first time in three years (yeah, I know). They flagged my high total cholesterol (TC), but I also have really high HDL-C, which is supposedly protective against cardiovascular disease (yay). Naturally, I dove deep into this topic and discovered that everything I thought I knew about cholesterol was wrong. And most physicians I've talked to have absolutely no nuanced understanding, either. They'll look at one number (TC), but don't account for subtypes of cholesterol (LDL), nor order more tests to probe further into the sub-subtypes (VLDL) or ratios from other lipoproteins (ApoB) that are more indicative of hazard. Cardiovascular disease is what kills most of us – shouldn't general practitioners have much more lipidology training?

3/ I'm a total fiber-head now. One big dietary change I've made this year is eating way more fiber. Did you know 95% of Americans don’t even get their 38 grams per day of fiber? It was surprisingly hard for me to clear that bar without supplementing with psyllium husk and a ton of chia seeds in my morning smoothie (ask for recipe). Fiber is good for almost everything: gut microbiome, blood sugar, cholesterol, total food consumption, etc. I’ve also been lowering my saturated fats by avoiding (but not eliminating) animal products, but it’s still really hard to keep sat fats down. My friend once told me if you eat a single Lindt Chocolate Truffle, you’re already at 70% of your recommended daily limit. Geez!

4/ I've run 923 miles in about 8 months. For context, last year I ran 18 total. Drake would would say that's 0 to 100, real quick (fuck being on some chill shit). I was surprised by how far gentle consistency will get you! I just started slow and steady, focusing on cadence and staying at a Zone 2 heart rate. Six months later, I was able to run a casual 15 miles in barefoot shoes, and I ran my first trail race in five years (30K). My VO2max went from 46 to 60 ml/kg/min (LOL). The race felt like butter, and crossing the finish line was hugely symbolic for me. It felt like a spiritual rebirth, like I've regained my soul after having been physically sedentary and mentally stagnant for the past few years. Highlight of the year. I wrote more about that running journey here.

5/ I've done two stand-up comedy sets! It's been a dream of mine to try stand up comedy after watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel a few years ago, but then I came up with a million reasons not to do it. This year, my friend and I started to send each other an original joke a day, and then he co-hosted some small private events where we performed. It was exhilarating! (Ask me for video). The joke-a-day exercise really helped me see the world through a comedian's lens. Lesson: All parts of life can be funny; everything is material. I'm so grateful for having experienced that perspective.

6/ I'm a real uncle now for the first time! (not just "Uncle Wes" to all my friends's kids & their dogs). I've grown up with a dozen baby cousins, but holding a baby niece for the first time... hits different. She feels so much closer to me than any other baby. Maybe it's my current age, but it switched on a parental urge and dare I say it, a baby fever. It's a foreign feeling to me, but I feel more sensitive and more... relational?

7/ Went back to Thailand for a week long diving trip, back to where I first got certified (in Koh Tao). I took my little brother with me. He got certified, and saw a whale shark on his fourth ever dive. I don't think he understands the gravity of what he's seen. There were people on the boat with 400 dives who have never seen one! I forgot how much I love diving, and I'm considering living a month there getting my divemasters some day. Also if you're ever in Bangkok, I highly recommend staying at The Standard: best hotel I've ever stayed at, and not the most expensive.

II. Things on my mind

8/ Division of labor is efficient, but labor together is time well spent. I learned this from watching my friends take care of their new baby together. Instead of one person bathing the baby and the other cooking (division), they both bathe together and they both cook together (multiplying). There are more important things than getting things done. This insight penetrates through so many other reflections right now.

9/ I have been reflecting on money a lot this year. Long short, I have been watching my pennies too closely, to detriment of what fulfills me. I look back at all the things I said no to because it all seemed so expensive. I was so fixated on the power of compound interest of money that I overlooked the compound of interest of memories: The more positive experiences I can create earlier on, the longer I get to look back at them for. Those experiences will probably change me exponentially. So I made a commitment to spend more on the things that matter to me. I reflected more on this topic here.

10/ "Do you ever get the feeling like everything made to make our lives better is slowly just making everything worse?" I can't stop thinking about this. We have all the music and podcasts at our fingertips and wireless earbuds, but it's also made it harder than ever to talk to strangers in a public place. We can feed so many people now, but all the food is trying to kill us (this book, and this book) and killing the environment. The internet is amazing at connecting us to each other, but also more disconnected to Others. Is a "net good" worth the bad?

11/ I had a mini-existential crisis this year where I kept ruminating about why I do anything, who I do it for, what's the point, etc. I ranted about performativity and whose instructions we're following here back in June. But it came back again in a more coherent reflection here in November on what it means to actually be embodied in the life we're living.

12/ I'm never satisfied as a spectator. I learned this about myself this year. I can't just look at some beautiful mountains, or just look at a gorgeous lake. I want to go swim in it. I want to run, backpack, climb, and scramble. I want to cut my skin on branches and juice my brain with adrenaline. Sometimes, putting my body on the line is the best way to feel like I can engage with something. My mom wants me to go "sightseeing" instead of doing "risky" things, and I just can't understand why anyone would think window shopping at life is ever fun. I've accepted that I'm just wired like this.

13/ Appreciating the craft makes life more beautiful. I live next to the iconic Heath Ceramics. I walked in one day, and though they were beautiful, I could not understand why a single plate costs $45. So I enrolled in a 8-week ceramics class at a nearby studio to fully understand the nuances. Now, I find myself in restaurants more interested in the plates than the food! Similarly, after years of developing taste with photography (by actually doing it), and now making videos for work, I find myself appreciating how much thought goes into lighting the scene to visually communicate the conceptual intention. It adds enormous value to the things I consume, but it also ruins a few things (I abhor the lighting job in modern-era fantasy shows like Rings of Power and Wheel of Time!).

14/ This is frivolous but... Apple Music is better Spotify if you care about sound quality. I can't believe I'm saying this (because I believe in cross-platform) but it's just true. I've wasted countless hours to experimentation because I've become quote an audiophile lately. If you have a hi-fi system, it's a no-brainer. The sonic quality is just night and day. But if you listen mainly via your Bluetooth headset, you likely won't hear a difference. Other streaming services offer lossless but their app interfaces just suck (Tidal, Amazon Music, Qobuz).

III. Things I loved


15/ The Bear (TV, FX/Hulu) - This might be the best show on TV ever (hello, enemies). Between the writing, the cinematography, the editing, the score, this is a show that I've spent countless hours just watching YouTube videos about it, like this interviews with the editors on how they edited some of the scenes. Whether it's the incredible 17-minute one-cut adrenaline-shot of an episode (1x07, "Review") or the hour-long clenchfest of a family dinner (2x06, "Fishes"), or the tender transformation in (2x07, "Forks"), this show is a work of art.

16/ Lessons in Chemistry (Apple TV+, book) - I couldn't put this book down, and I devoured the TV show. I teared up on an airplane. The experience was like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; it breathed new life into me. Reluctantly, I liked the TV show better, but they both were brilliant in different ways. I particularly loved how the show beefed up the neighbor's plot line (Mrs. Harriet), which made her a better foil to the main character, who Brie Larson did a fantastic job portraying. Watch the trailer.

17/ Lakota Nation vs United States (documentary) - A must-watch documentary about Lakota people, by Lakota people. Part history lesson about the lasting impact of the brutal colonization of the people, but also part powerful chronicling of the resiliency and ongoing fight to reclaim their land after the US violated our treaties with them (#LandBack movement). Watch the trailer, and do them a favor and buy it to watch it (I'd like to think it supports the Indigenous filmmakers).

18/ Life of Riza (YouTube vlog) - I stan for Kariza. I love the cinematic quality of her vlogs. Sometimes she says so much without saying anything at all. I liked this one about taking risks and figuring it out later, and this one on not waiting for life to happen to you which was made from her diary entry: "You have to take risks. It's the only way to find out who we really are. And even if we fail, what better way is there to live?" I love seeing her improve and develop her style over time.

19/ Ali Siddiq: Domino Effect (comedy) - I started watching a ton of stand up comedy to "take class," as they say. I love the way Ali tells stories and makes it funny. Doesn't feel like he's telling jokes. In this two part special, he definitely has a lot of stories. From being a child "street pharmaceutical sales rep," to the stories from 10 years in prison, he makes it all so engaging. I liked Part 2 (LOSS) because of the heavy topics.


20/ Killers of the Flower Moon (David Grann) - 5/5 book true crime about how people were marrying Native Americans and killing their families (and their spouses) for rights to their oil money (Indigenous land was stolen, but they had rights to the resources underneath). Reads like a mystery novel.

21/ The High Sierra: A Love Story (Kim Stanley Robinson) - 5/5 book made me rethink my own relationship to place, and think deeper about what environmental psychology says about my own happiness (and makes me ask, where do I want to settle down?). KSR, known for his environmentally-themed science fiction, reveals how his escapades in the High Sierras have shaped how he thinks about the world, and more importantly, conveys how it's possible to have such a deep relationship to a place. Highly recommend if you're interested in an autobiography embedded in natural history.

Other things

22/ Switching from the Apple Watch to this Garmin helped me get back in shape. It's a small thing, but wearing something that is constantly centering my life around fitness makes it feel normal (and the activation barrier smaller). Every time I check the time I'm also seeing my fitness metrics. Every morning I get a report of how how well I slept and how that translates to my training that day. Again, not necessary, but it did help. Even top-of-the-line Garmin watches are atrocious smartwatches compared to the AW, but I do think it is superior for sports.

23/ The latest iPhones are so huge for photography. They say the best camera is the one you have with you, and being able to shoot in ProRAW format from my pocket is making that even more true. I love being able to edit with Darkroom on the fly. I just upgrade to the latest iPhone which now lets me shoot 4K in ProRes Log straight to an external SSD, which unlocks so much creative freedom from something so compact. 2024 is going to be big for my creativity, I think. Probably mostly food photos.