Just Emile

My Infinite Game

In game theory, there are two types of games.

In finite games (short and long) there are players, there are rules and there are winners. The game is designed to end, and it's based on scarcity of resources.

In the infinite game, though, something completely different is going on. In the infinite game, the point is to keep playing, not to win. In the infinite game, the journey is all there is. And so, players in an infinite game never stop giving so that they can take.

When I first started creating courses on Udemy, it was because I was seeking a more stable and durable source of income, more time flexibility and less early morning hours writing hundreds of lines of program code.

I think that having specific goals is a necessary thing in life and they have their place. But for my efforts in online teaching, I really did not have any fixed goals. What I had instead were initiatives. Four years on, my income is indeed more stable, I have more time flexibility and I spend much much less time writing code. Of course, all of these things can be improved even further. So they are more of a continuum.

In all of this happening, there was something else that I did not fully anticipate. And that was Connection. Through the courses I was forming real human connections. The messages from course participants where they say ... I am doing this course because ....

“I've lost my job and am looking to re-skill”. “My current job does not pay enough and I want to move into a higher paying area.” “I love to learn” “I was so frustrated trying to find this type of material, but now I have, thank you.” “No one at my work wants to teach me this stuff, so it was so great when I found these courses.”

... and on and on.

Real people, with real lives, with real challenges and motivations. And I have an opportunity to touch those lives in some small way. This cannot be described by some specific S.M.A.R.T. goal as the productivity pundits like to promulgate. This is a continuum. This has become my infinite game. The point of it is to keep playing for as long as I can.

Yes I have to pay bills, and I do. Yes I have to invest, and I do. Yes we have to check all of those boxes and be responsible. But those things are there to merely sustain life but it cannot be what I live for. If someone (who is not going through tough financial times) one day tells me that they get great fulfillment from paying their electricity bill, I will immediately give them the number for my psychotherapists office.

Killing a pain in one's life leaves a void that does not automatically become filled with joy. Most times there is just a void. Joy must be explicitly created.

I have reached this point where I want to work on my craft so that I can keep on working on my craft. The point is to keep on playing, not to “cash out” one day. It is said that musicians don't retire, but rather that they simply run out of music. I hope to be like a musician, that when I come to a point where I can no longer play the game, that whatever little talent I have has been thoroughly expended in connecting with others, and contributing, and did not lay wasted inside of me.

I follow a minimalist way of life for a few reasons. Ridding myself of unnecessary possessions and clutter makes room for more time, more space, more opportunity to play my game, to connect, to teach, to push my music out into the world, in the hope that it may touch lives, in the deep hope that when I leave this world, that I would have given more than I would have taken from it.

The idea of retirement is a man made concept created within a certain time frame for a certain purpose, with it's requisite merits. But times and the world have changed, and the rules of society need to be individually reexamined and questioned and tested to see if they continue to be viable.

The way in which I play my infinite game may change, may evolve as I grow, but I still want to keep on playing for as long as I can. There is no retirement within this framework.

I want to keep playing until there is no more music left in me. This is my hope.

Can't Write

Over the past few days, I have tried around 3 times to write a post here. I would start and then I would end up deleting. One even got as far as 3 paragraphs but I ended up deleting that one as well. It is not that I have not had anything to write about. I have. But I either felt uninspired or was not able to satisfy myself that I was expressing my thoughts in the way that I wanted to be.

So tonight I decided to write about the fact that I am not able to write. I think this very well may a small example of what is meant by paradox.

Yet the writing has become a type of oxygen to me. I miss it when I don't do it, even if I am not able to do it. So I am not waiting for motivation to hit me, or that feeling of when the words are flowing. I am not waiting for those things. I am simply writing while feeling uninspired and having nothing much to say. And that's OK.

It's late and tomorrow is another day, and another possibility that my inspiration will return, that my fingers would move effortlessly over this keyboard.

So cheers to tomorrow!

Breakfast Music Ritual

Good rituals are difficult to form. It takes time, persistence and considerable effort before the actions become automatic. There is a ritual that I have been practicing long enough such that I believe it is fit for me to even call it a habit.

After my morning shower, and before I start to prepare breakfast, I grab my smart phone and portable Bluetooth speaker. I place both on the dining table, turn on the speaker and allow it to sync with the phone. Once it's done so, I open an app called PC Radio and open the favourites section, where I have four streaming selections:

  • R&B Soft Jazz
  • Relaxing Piano
  • Smooth Piano
  • Enya

I select one to be played and adjust the speaker volume appropriately. This plays constantly while I am preparing and having my breakfast. For the past week and a half I have been stuck on R&B Smooth Jazz. Just been in that kind of mood.

Our language has changed in the past few months. New words have not only been introduced but are the all pervasive norm, displacing most everything else. Pandemic, protocols, distancing, sanitizing, masks, cytokine storm, comorbidities, preexisting conditions, total cases, active cases, contact tracing, sporadic, cluster, community, and on and on. Within this onslaught, it feels to me as if beauty, art, love, romance, poetry, passion have all but evaporated. But they have not. They have merely, and unfortunately, been displaced.

Shutting everything else out and letting only the music pervade during this time in the morning is a form of oxygen, and saves me from suffocating under the weight of all of the survival words. It's a reminder that the beauty has not disappeared. It's still very much there, and it is more important than ever that I expose myself to it as often as I can.

To me, the essence of what it means to be a human being cannot be reduced to a series of procedures and methods that will allow survival. There is more. We are more. There is still wonder, and we can be present for it once we are determined and deliberate in seeking it out.

The Bridges of Madison County

The Bridges of Madison County, starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep, is a favourite movie of mine. Both actors are superb in the movie, but Meryl Streep, for me, makes the movie what it is. Her portrayal of Francesca Johnson (Fanny) is out of this world. The words, the movements, the mannerisms ... she is mesmerizing to watch. I can't have any distractions around when I am watching that movie, and I have seen it many times.

I watched it again a few weeks back, and there was a scene toward the end that left an impression. Robert had passed away and left her several of his personal items. One in particular was a book of photographs that he took of the bridges of the county. He dedicated the book to her. In one of the first few pages of the book, Fanny is seen reading a poem by Lord Byron. I think it was the most perfect poem for that scene. I just have to place it here:

“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society, where none intrudes, By the deep Sea, and music in its roar: I love not Man the less, but Nature more, From these our interviews, in which I steal From all I may be, or have been before, To mingle with the Universe, and feel What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.”

Heavenly, just heavenly!

Penmanship

The majority of the work that I perform is done on digital. I have made it a point to use as little paper as possible. Whilst I prefer to read from paper, I have trained myself to read very long documents off of a computer screen, taking the requisite breaks in between to preserve my eyesight. I print so little that the cartridges in my printer have become clogged more than once from lack of use.

In my past life when I had a day job, I would see thousands of pages go to waste with unnecessary printing. Managers too lazy to adapt having their admins print out emails to read them. Every piece of paper has to come from a fallen tree, and I do so love trees. It's why I have trained myself to do without paper.

But one of the deleterious consequences of this is that my penmanship has suffered from lack of use. When I first started back to write in my paper journal, it's like I had to train myself how to write all over again. One of the main habits that I had to reverse was speed. My fingers had become so accustomed to typing on a keyboard with these short bursts of rapid movement, it translated itself to my writing style with dire consequences.

Every time I write in my journal I have to be very conscious and aware of the speed at which my fingers want to move and then I have to purposefully slow them down. I also have to force myself to form the letters properly by intentionally writing in larger font than what would come naturally. The practice of these habits is slowly having a positive effect. My hand writing is getting more pleasant to look it, quite a world away from the chicken scratch from when I started.

I do not believe I will reach a point where I will not have to use conscious effort to make the letters look like how I want them to look. But that's OK with me, as an unexpected but positive side effect of slowing down my hands has been the slowing down of my thoughts, something that I welcome very much. Writing in this fashion feels like a small meditative escape. When my thoughts flow too quickly, the quality of the letters worsens, and I then have to slow the movement of my hands to improve their quality again. It's an interesting and unexpected feedback loop. Who knew?

So day by day, week by week, month by month, I am seeing improvement on the page, and it makes me smile. Hell, almost everything about writing makes me smile.

Fear

Last year, toward the end of one of my psychotherapy sessions, I was asked what plans I had for the coming months. I replied by saying that I was not exactly sure what I was going to do, but I was very sure of how I wanted to feel. When asked about the latter, I said that I wanted to feel less afraid, and ideally, I wanted to create art without fear, to which the psychotherapist smiled.

For as long as I can remember, I have been afraid. Fear of making mistakes, fear of failure, fear of ridicule, fear of being an outsider, fear that everything would fall apart if I don't keep holding it all together. After all this time, after proving myself through so many challenges, it still lives with me. Sometimes it's at the forefront, but most times it's this small voice at the back of my mind saying ... “You'd better keep vigilant, before something bad happens”.

For some time now, I have been slowly growing weary of being afraid for so many hours in a day, days in a week, weeks in a month. It's been such a long time since I felt safe. It's been such a long time since I have had a safe place. There's always something else to handle or something just around the corner.

If courage is not the absence of fear but action in the face of fear, then I can very humbly say that I have shown some courage over the years.

I have a questions that I have been asking myself for some time now. Can I create without fear? Can I do my work joyfully instead?

It's one thing to reach one of life's milestones, but I imagine it must be a completely different thing to have more joy on the journey than fear, than worry, than anxiety, than sorrow. I think that to have a majority of joy on the journey must be like a small heaven, at least for me.

The Awareness of Death

I have noticed that when most people think of dying and death, they usually think of it as happening to someone else, but not to them. Yet each day that passes we are one step closer to our graves or our incineration on the pyre, depending on the custom you adopt.

By and large, we wake up each morning and move through the day with the tacit assumption that we have tons of time ahead of us in a cloud of abstraction that we call the future. We will be happier, better, wiser sometime in the future.

But nature and the natural order of things does not like or hate our illusions. It simply does not care and really does not have to. The natural order of things is not some philosophy to be discussed. It merely is. Whether we rage against her or not is of no consequence to mother nature.

But this is not all “bad” news. Trying to live as many of our days with an awareness of own mortality can make us adopt the quality of being spiritual, much more so than any religion. It can give us the motivation to make more meaningful decisions, to be braver, to be more honest and forthright, and walk closer to the life we dreamed of.

Living in this way is not binary, but rather a continuum. It's a lifestyle, a progression of trying to get better and better at living a life with a clear awareness of our temporary nature, so that we can make more meaning.

The awareness of death has the possibility of making us supremely alive. The spiritual road is by no means an easy one, but it may very well have the more scenic vistas than any other.

Budget Day

It's budget day. I am sitting alone in my car in Barakah grounds food court with the goal of avoiding the 7 pm news as well as the endless rounds of mostly uninformed panel budget discussions that all lead to nowhere. Generally, the news tells you how the world is right now, but almost never will it shine a light on the possibility of how the world can be. The economy of T&T is quite simple, and what needs to be done is even simpler. Wait ... hold on ... let me guess ... the economy needs to be diversified right? I know ... I know ... yes ... well I went UWI and ting nah, dize how ah know. These idiotic wasteful panel discussions. One's time would better be spent by watching an old TTT colour test pattern.

Economies and societies are transformed almost in the same way as the individual, by sustained consistent effort over years. But that's much too boring a subject to discuss on news. We need to know what's happening right now, and it must be exciting, urgent and must be explored with no historical perspective whatsoever.

I have started work on a new Udemy course and today I started to script the very first lecture. The most difficult part is the start. I spent much of last week reading through dozens of technical papers, and watching even more relevant video material. It helps me to immerse myself in the subject matter. I can only start to script lectures when I “feel” the subject matter.

It's an odd thing. In addition to seeing how all of the parts fit together, I need to go one step further. To be so immersed in the subject that I feel the connections in my body, I feel a flow of knowledge through and through. It's a state that is difficult for me to achieve but very easy to lose. One whole week to build to this point can be degraded or wiped out with a half hour of news, of how the world is right now, not how it could be.

Have we all forgotten that we are all beautiful possibilities? Have we been presented with problems that are so large that we have decided that we cannot make a difference? If we were truly made in God's image, why do we again and again decide to live like ants? Are we just here to fucking earn money, drive a nice car, decorate our houses and then die? Is that it? If that's it, it would better that we not be born at all. Aren't we more? Are we not here for the possibility of it all? Are we not here to give to the world more that we take from it?

It's very quiet here but for the sound of the cars on the highway in the distance. Only one food outlet is opened today as expected, and there are only 2 other cars besides mine in the car park. What I especially like about this venue is the stark absence of walls. Everything about here feels free.

Think I will stay here for a while again. The simpletons on TV should be gone by the time I get back home.

Stacking the Small Wins

I endeavour to run 5 km every morning for 6 days out of the week. But it usually does not work out that way. Sometimes it's because of the weather, but most times it's because I have days where I just don't feel like running and so I remain at home and start my work earlier than usual.

My heredity makes me very much predisposed to becoming a diabetic. So in order to delay the onset of this condition, I have to eat properly and exercise every day. That's a given. Yet almost every morning the thought goes through my head to just stay home and take it easy, just for that day. Most times I get dressed and head to the small park where I run. Sometimes I just stay home.

I think what contributes quite a bit to keep me going is that I try as much as possible to record the days when I do go to the park and run. I do this by noting it down on a crudely draw calendar on my white board. Two dots next to a day when I run, and one dot for when I walk. I think of it as stacking the small wins.

My life is inundated with bad news coming in all directions and the pandemic has amplified this. In this storm of negativity, I find that I tend to forget the small wins in my life. So I try to find ways to push back against the natural inertia of the days. Stacking each running day as a small win makes me feel that progress is being made, and most times the breaking of the uniformity of my crude calendar pushes my ass out of the house on mornings.

It's never going to be perfect and that's just fine. Perfection is not needed to bring change into one's life. Rather, it can more than get done by stacking up more small wins than small losses.

Tomorrow morning the feeling will hit all over again to just stay home and lay down on the couch. Hopefully I will be able to stack a win. If not, I'll try again, and again, and again.

Water Heater

When I was a child, I remember a particular type of water heater being installed in the main shower in the house. The heater itself was a shower head with a heating element, so as the water passed the heating element it would be heated and then flow through the rest of the shower head to fall on your body.

But there was no adjustment on the heater. It was on or off. The temperature of the water that you got depended on the flow rate. Open the faucet a relatively small amount and the water was really hot. Open it all the way, and the water would be anywhere between lukewarm and chilly. So you had to find a compromise between flow rate and preferred temperature. Interesting the specificity of certain memories from childhood.

In my current home, we have a “tank” type water heater and consequently you can have, in the shower, any temperature at any flow rate you want. There is no compromise to be had.

On most days I take this for granted, but ideally I should not. I live in a time in human history where I can flip a switch and illuminate a room, and I can turn a handle and shower with any flow I want to at any temperature that I desire. 500 years ago, this would have been the stuff of fantasy, of the miraculous.

These miracles are part of my daily existence. Remembering this, being shoved into the awareness of this, fills me with humility and gratitude. With all of the mess that the world seems to be in right now, we have countless miracles around us and we need only the right awareness of mind to see them.

I think, especially in this time, that I need more of these moments of awareness, these moments of noticing miracles in the “ordinary”.

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