Hello again old friend (and new)!
A few changes to my annual letter.
First, I've moved away from Mailchimp and over to the open-source blogging platform, Ghost. Low-key, I hate Mailchimp, and don't need all the marketing bells and whistles. Also, you might be receiving this for the first time because Mailchimp probably didn't make it past your inbox before.
Second, my annual letter is now open to the public (so you can read the last few letters if you missed them), but if you're receiving this, I've manually added you into the "annual letter" subscription on my website and will receive one email per year.
Third, I've been told how many people look forward to this letter from me every year, and wish that I sent more updates (thank you!). I'm going to blog more this upcoming year so if you want those updates to your email, feel free to subscribe to the "all new posts" option (go to www.westleydang.com and hit Subscribe).
Updates in numbers
- 5-year relationship ended in September, and I'm single again. (Comedic relief on what 5 years mean). Jokes aside, a lot of learnings from the aftermath, some of which are below.
- 3 grandparents have passed away this year, prompting the thought that family and friends are important, and I should spend more money and time to nurture these relationships.
- 2, the number of times I contracted COVID this year, and I'm learning now that I do not do well with respiratory illnesses. The cough keeps lingering for months on end, and it impacts my overall physical health because I can't exercise.
- 1, my first incorporated business that I'm thinking of starting... a simple camper van rental. It would be fun to learn the small business stuff firsthand.
Personal Essays brewing (coming in 2023)
- People have asked me whether I am more or less optimistic about climate, now that I'm working in funding climate-mitigating technologies. I'm generally pessimistic about our future. Largely because of the biodiversity blindspot (you should read Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction) and a possible unforeseen cliff in our natural ecosystems, and also the underweighting of climate-related migration patterns on geopolitical stability that snowball into bigger societal issues. BUT there are also a lot of innovations to be excited about thanks to synthetic biology: sustainable aviation fuels, microbes to restore degraded soil, a better way to produce foods (like meat, cheese, chocolate) that 90% less carbon intensive. They're not going to save us, but it will do some mitigation. I staunchly believe that technology is much cheaper than political will for changing behavior, and that ideological purity tests are not what we need in emergencies like these. I will explore my reserved pessimism in this essay.
- The jester/joker has been a new muse for me after a significant life event. I'm brought back to myself five years ago when I was more playful with the universe rather than actively pushing and preparing 'against' it. My synthesis: Life is like a series of jokes, and if things suck right now, it's because we haven't reached the punch line yet. It's better to see everything through the lens of play.
He is enlightened who joins in this play knowing it as play, for man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun. - Alan Watts
- I've become a 'human doing' and less of a 'human being', which is not good. It feels like everything I do has to fulfill some utility function, without just 'being' or doing for the sake of doing. You might think that "being present" is the antidote, but it's not: Being present as an objective is an objective in itself. "I should rest" or "I should be present" is a hidden, second-order form of "I must do this." I'm trying to figure out the solution living completely carefree, which is paradoxical, because un-doing the 'doing' is a form of doing (and perhaps the fact that I'm thinking too hard about this is going the wrong direction!). I'm seeking answers by revisiting the Tao Te Ching and the concept of wu wei, but I hope to articulate it well enough to myself that I can finally share it.
New Learnings from the year
- There is a fine line between a groove and a rut. I'll get into a groove when I feel like I have a nice daily habit, things are pleasantly predictable... but sometimes those grooves turn into ruts, where the very same predictability that once gave me momentum and security also makes me feel stale and stagnant, whether this is personal or interpersonal. It's important to know when and where to change things up, and to remember that we can be constantly reborn into new beings within the same lifetime.
- Flying has been a great space-time for writing and thinking, either in my journal or some personal essays. I have been flying a lot this year to see my friends and family, and I relish this liminal space of not having internet yet still having a computer. I tend to turn off the internet while I'm in the airport lounge too. I don't watch movies or consume content, I just... gestate. I love it.
- The most important learning I've had this year is how too much work can really suck the soul out of me. There have been many months where there wasn't a single hour of my day that I wasn't thinking about work-related things, not out of anxiety, but because I genuinely find work fulfilling. It's a privilege to love your work, but also important to remember that it can get in the way of more important things.
- Hacking fear. A friend of mine went to a climbing workshop with pro climber Emily Harrington who taught a workshop on how to deal with the fear of falling. The trick for practicing is to not associate falling with the fear (e.g., take intentional falls when you feel safe). This lesson feel very translatable, because what else are we equating with fear right before we do that thing?
- I've been thinking a lot about employing a barbell strategy more often when I make decisions (mostly about products, so far). Before, I've been trying to optimize for "the one" solution that has the best sum of all features. But I've been noticing how this strategy sometimes gives me the worst of both worlds instead of the best of both worlds. So now, I think about having both (under the same resource constraints) at both ends of the spectrum. For example, I used to have these headphones, which were wireless and portable AND over-ear and bulky but provided an okay sound quality. The problem was that it was bulky and the sound quality isn't superb (my hot take: ALL wireless transmission of audio is shit). So now I mainly use these pocket-sized wireless earbuds for when I'm mobile or working out, AND a wired open-ear headphone at home for very stationary use (I have it attached to an external DAC that draws a lot of power). Ta-da, best of both worlds as long as you take both ends of the spectrum.
- I spent a few weeks in Chile and Argentina this year for the first time, and loved learning again how deep the diversity is in the world. People live differently, operate in different cultural norms, and all of that impacts their personal values systems, their relationship to time, money, each other, etc. This is all very banal, but it's like saying "sunsets are colorful" versus actually seeing and watching one. Living in one microcosm, even for a tiny bit of time, adds a lot to your understanding of the world and each other.
Listening and watching
- I've been absolutely obsessed with singer Rozzi (Crane). Really vibing with her voice, songwriting and energy right now. I first fell in love with the track Joshua Tree back in 2018. Then resonated with her vulnerability in Uphill Battle. But this year I discovered this song that isn't in any of her albums that just gave me goosebumps: Rozzi - "Purple Mountains" Live at Dubway Studios - YouTube (please listen with headphones)
- I think there is a pretty interesting lesson here in the title of this video by musician Jacob Collier: That’s not a wrong note, you just lack confidence. - YouTube ... he says, "it's not that it's good or bad, it just hasn't found its consequence or context yet" ... something very Bob Ross-ian Zen. I want to friend him so hard.
- If you like watching big mountain skiing, watch Nikolai Schirmer's A Time for Everything. A quote from it:
"I realized that the way to live your life is actually just to do the things you want to do, not the things that you feel like you ought to do. And then do the things you want to do with absolute intensity, and full intention on what you're doing, and full focus. And if you can do that then you'll be happy, then you'll be better. And it doesn't matter what happens after that because if you can live like that it's gonna work."
- Stutz (Netflix) - Jonah Hill records a session with his therapist (Phil Stutz) and turn it into a pretty cool 1.5 hour documentary that Phil's techniques with visual notecards, but also gets into their personal relationships.
- For All Mankind (Apple TV+) - Well-produced historical fiction on what the space program would have been like if Russia had beaten the US to the moon (and also subsequently put the first woman on the moon). It's fun watching the United States play catch up.
- Read this Scientific American story about the unexpected finding on the Thwaites Glacier (the "doomsday glacier"). Turns out horizontal melting is an incomplete way to think about disappearing glaciers. Researchers were confused by why they didn't see thinning, especially when there is warm water flowing underneath. Then, they used a drone to find underwater terraces and fissures, and calculated that "vertical" melting is happening 10 times faster than horizontal melting, which will accelerate more fracturing. In short, this ice shelf will disappear faster than we anticipated.
- Bartosz Ciechanowski writes the most incredible interactive and technical visual explainers about science, math, and engineering. Those last three words might scare you, but I implore you to take a quick browse because they're somewhat friendly, especially the ones on GPS, Mechanical Watches, and the Internal Combustion Engine.
- Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman | Goodreads - Loved this book, and it helped stir thoughts around the 'human being vs human doing' thesis I am cooking up in my head. Here's a quote from a review at The Guardian:
"Burkeman diagnoses the modern condition as “existential overwhelm”. There are just far too many things that seem worth doing. He advises us to embrace “the joy of missing out”: the recognition that renouncing alternatives is what makes any choice meaningful. We should surrender to what Germans call Eigenzeit, the time integral to a process itself. If a thing’s worth doing, it takes as long as it takes."
- I've been using Wren this year to buy carbon offsets and it's been incredibly easy and informative. I highly recommend it, feel free to use my referral link and they'll do some good things for us.
- There is a new tattoo trend called Ephemeral (I got one) which is a made to fade tattoo that fades in a year. The tattoo process is still the same, the ink is biodegradable (and I would also venture a guess about low polydispersity index so that macrophages can eat it up). It removes the whole "I don't want to commit forever" from the equation and I'm interested in what people would decorate themselves with when permanence is no longer a factor!
- Went climbing in El Potrero Chico near Monterrey, Mexico, and it was awesome! My friend led most of the routes because I was so weak from having COVID leading up to the trip. We did 14 pitches on Yankee Clipper, 6 pitches on Pitch Black (my fav), and 5 on Pancho Villa Rides Again. Limestone is freaking sharp!