Clerestory

A frequent unfiltered stream of thoughts

In a bit of holiday downtime, I'm planning what I'd like to do in 2019. Beeminder is having a New Year's Resolution Survivor competition, with contestants listed here. The basic idea is to commit to a goal for the whole year of 2019, and stick to it throughout. I've decided to enter with three different goals:

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Lately I’ve been thinking about free will. This is in part thanks to Sam Harris, who has been examining the topic in his new Waking Up app. He seems especially interested in the fact that we seem to have little influence on which thoughts appear in consciousness. We hear sounds, but we don’t produce them in consciousness. We think thoughts, but we don’t produce them either; there’s a sense in which they happen to us.

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This weekend I finished Cal Newport's So Good They Can't Ignore You. Much of it rings true for me. Although it's intended to motivate and to help one maximise career potential, it can also be painful to read, since it can highlight one's career missteps. Or at least it has thrown my mistakes into high relief. Nevertheless I'm very glad to have read it. It is an easy book to outline as Newport clearly delineates the constituent ideas into rules, so I'll summarise them and explain how I reacted to each of them in turn.

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I recently read Derek Sivers' Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur. I can't remember how I came across it, but the subtitle was not (and is not) particularly promising. Some sort of glorified set of bulletpoints, I thought, aimed at businesspeople. I was surprised, then, to find such a moving and eloquent account of discovery, something closer to Marcus Aurelius than to the tepidly inspirational listicle I'd expected.

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Last night we had our second meeting of the new discussions I'm holding, called Through a Glass Darkly. It went exceedingly well; I wrote at some length about what we discussed.

I've also hosted an internal debate about whether to continue writing publicly in December, and if so, the frequency at which I ought to post. November's barrage, though not always great, led to six articles of reasonable interest, and I imagine there's an inevitable ratio of chaff to wheat that mandates a minimum amount of writing. What I mean is that if I'm not writing all the time, it's unlikely I'll write anything worthwhile. And while I write every day for myself, what I write in a journal is not as polished as what I write for the consumption of a public, however potential, however small. I've spoken to someone else who wrote publicly every day for three years, and he reported that it massively increased his ability to have ideas.

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My final hours of sobriety; our revels now are starting. Tonight I've got a friend's birthday followed by a Christmas party, and I fully intend to have craft beer at midnight to celebrate the completion of my ascetic month.

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On my penultimate dry day, I'm writing in an empty pub on Tottenham Court Road, where the staff knows me, as I used to work nearby. I'm in a pub because, although I'd secured a coveted seat in the excellent TAP Coffee No. 114, the tiny venue lacks a loo, and I'd had to drink two litres of water at the hospital.

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I may have spoken too soon. By which I mean I wanted a drink tonight. It may relate, as I speculated at the start, to work.

Let me explain.

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Tonight was my monthly book club. The discussion was on Kamila Shamsie's Home Fire, which I enjoyed. The book takes a number of unexpected turns, and while the characters are not the most developed, the story is compelling, and they are after all figures in a tragedy. The discussion was polarized; some people found the writing cliché, the characters flat, the story melodramatic, while others found many of the scenes (including the radicalisation and the events in Karachi) quite plausible, the topic timely and interesting, and the writing engaging. There are provocative parallels with current politics, and a few others examined the book's interesting re-interpretation of Antigone.

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It's late so I'll not say much tonight. It was the first meeting of the Monday evening face-to-face intellectual conversations to which I've been alluding. I've named them Through a Glass Darkly, though this met with some dissent. I enjoyed the conversation although participants have requested that I add more structure.

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