Continuous Partial Intention, a decade story

The first time I smoked weed I didn't get high.

But the second time I smoked weed, I did, and I decided to make myself a sandwich.

At the time, this decision was life-changing. My high mind could hardly conceive of such a wonderful idea: a SANDWICH! How ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC! And I can MAKE IT MYSELF! With things I ALREADY HAVE! Right here in MY OWN APARTMENT! What A JOYOUS DELIGHT!

I was filled with a childlike fascination and appreciation — transparently shallow, yet deeply and genuinely felt.

This overflowing, recurring, and thoroughly unflappable joy was new to me, never having been high before. I’ve made plenty of sandwiches in my life, and I don’t think I’d ever once considered any aspect of the process a joy. But for those sandwiches I'd never been high, and for this one I was, so off I went, happier than I'd ever been, to make myself what I thought, at the time, was going to be THE BEST SANDWICH OF ALL TIME.

I, of course, expected the euphoria, as that was one of the selling points of doing something like getting high in the first place. What nobody ever told me about being high, however, was that it changes your attentional capacity as well. I had no idea this was a thing, and my first hands-on experience with it was with this particular, potentially life-changing sandwich.

I have no idea how long it took me to make the sandwich — clock time isn't really experienced the same way when high — but I know that it definitely took me a lot longer than it would have normally because I kept interrupting myself with my own thoughts. Multiple times during the process of gathering the ingredients and assembling them into my sandwich, I got distracted. I didn't mean to — I had every intention of making myself an amazing sandwich — but these constant distractions just sort of... high happened. I'd heard about weed being an “in the moment” drug, but I didn't understand what that description meant until I attempted to do something that involved more than momentary planning and execution.

I pulled out the bread, and the loaf was almost finished. It reminded me that I needed to make another trip to the grocery store, and at the grocery store they had ice cream, and you know what ice cream is damn delicious and I'd just had some good ice cream with a friend a couple of nights ago I should text them to see how they're doing right now but wait my phone isn't in my pocket where did I leave it — is it over there — no, not by the couch, maybe I left it on my desk — I'll go look for it in a moment as soon as I'm done...

...wait, what am I doing right now?


My brain would see a stimulus like the almost-finished bread loaf and immediately follow a chain of mental connections that entirely pulled my focus — so much so that I genuinely and completely forgot the task that I was in the middle of. I am not exaggerating when I say that, over the course of making a single simple sandwich, I legitimately had to re-remember that I was in the middle of making that very sandwich multiple times. I was so “in the moment” that the most fleeting distraction completely derailed my execution. Each time I looked down and saw the sandwich components in front of me, I rediscovered, with the highest of delights, of course, what I was currently in the process of doing.

If someone were to have been watching me during this moment, they would have seen me standing at the counter in my kitchen executing the steps of sandwich-making excruciatingly slowly. Each new action would be followed by a pause with me staring off into space, thinking deeply, and then looking down with surprise as I remembered that my sandwich was as-yet unfinished.

Also, if someone were to eat the sandwich I made, it would probably be pretty terrible. I don't remember what I put on the sandwich, but I know that I was so inhibited that doing something as simple as spreading mayonnaise would have been nigh-unachievable on account of the substeps necessary: open the fridge, get the mayo jar, close the fridge, go to the silverware drawer, get out a butter knife, close the drawer, unscrew the jar lid, scoop out the mayo, spread it on the bread. That was far too many steps for me to get through with fidelity.

Of course, to my high mind, the sandwich was great. Was it really? No. But did I perceive it to be that way? Absolutely.

The last entry in the last blog I ever wrote is now about a decade old. The blog was one of several that I have kept over the course of my lifetime. Across various platforms and usernames, I blogged through high school, college, and the early years of my career. Each one was instrumental in allowing me to put my thoughts out into the world, and each one has been followed by a deep and uncomfortable after-the-fact embarrassment about what I've admitted to publicly in writing, which has prompted me to pull them down from the internet and bury their texts in my own personal, private archives.

I still revisit the texts of those blogs with a mixture of appreciation and cringe for what I was able to capture at the time. More than anything else, however, I revisit them because they have a feeling of permanence. The entries feel weighty, and in aggregate, they feel downright substantial. They are simultaneously timely and timeless, and I see them, accumulated, as akin to books — full books, that I, myself, wrote.

I contrast this with what I've written in the past decade, which has primarily been comments on social media platforms.

My comments often read like blog posts, and for good reason: that's the type of writing I've done for a long time, and that's what I'm comfortable doing. But I don't return to those comments like I do my blogs. I don't see those words as carrying the same weight, and for a long time I couldn't figure out why. Across the years what I have written has certainly been meaningful, and the social media platforms I have used have brought those posts to bigger audiences than I ever got on a personal blog. Countless people have sent me replies or private messages saying that my words have made them cry, have helped them with dark thoughts, and have been an inspiration to them. Shouldn't I be happy that my words have such reach and impact? Isn't that why I'm writing them in the first place?

Yes, partially, but also no. I've come to see social media like the tide, constantly cycling in and out, in and out. There is always something new replacing the old or, in this case, there's always fresh sand on which to write new messages that will remain relevant only until the tide cycles and we're left with a refreshed, untouched beach — a blank canvas onto which we can etch our words once again.

For simple messages, this is fine — even preferable. But sometimes I want to do more than just etch a few temporary words in the sand. Sometimes I want to build something more significant or meaningful.

And so I do. I make an intricate sandcastle. I spend hours on it. Sometimes all day. And then I step back, proud of what I've made. And then other beachgoers come by and compliment it or tell me they see beauty in it, and it's genuinely nice to have that sort of recognition. But then the tide rises and falls and the sandcastle is gone, and the only way to feel the satisfaction of my words is to build yet another one for people to see. There are always people at the beach.

In looking back at the past decade of my life, I've written, across various internet forums and social media platforms, more meaningful words than the rest of my personal blogs combined. Unfortunately, I also feel like I have nothing to show for those words. There's no permanence to them. They either don't live anywhere, or they're living somewhere no one will ever go again — myself included.

I've spent the past ten years making only sandcastles, and ten years of efforts have been taken out by the tide.

The sandwich I made while high was not a good sandwich, but I thought it was a good one because that's what the drugs made my brain do.

Likewise, over the course of the past decade, many of the comments I've made online were not good ones, but I thought they were good ones because that's what the responses they received made my brain do. And even the ones that were actually good were made to feel far more good than they actually were because of that same effect.

The places I've commented over the past decade have all had explicit, built-in mechanisms that give me positive reinforcement for my words. I've commented to chase upvotes and awards and all sorts of other things. Some Many of the sandcastles I've built were made not because I wanted to make them, but because I know that, once finished, they'll get me lots of praise. There are always people at the beach, after all.

This effect, chasing positive reinforcement, is an obvious and, by now, common criticism people have of social media. However, I think there's a more debilitating undercurrent — something I'm loathe to admit to even myself because I don't like what it says about me.

Writing a social media comment, even a very involved one one, is easier than writing a full essay, a short story, or a novel. It's easier than learning an instrument, writing a song, or composing an album. It's easier than learning to draw, making some sketches, and creating artwork.

Writing internet comments is a skill that I have practiced and honed over the course of a decade, but I don't know what it says about me that it's the only thing I'm good at. People ask me about my hobbies, and it's an embarrassing question, because I don't know how to respond. I don't really have any. I hardly read books anymore. I play mostly mindless videogames. I listen to shallow, easily accessible music. My life is one of instant gratification and reward. The only thing I genuinely put effort towards outside of my career is writing.

And the only writing I do is internet comments.

Of course, deep within me is this persistent feeling that I want to do something that matters. I want to create something not to make money or go viral but because I want the satisfaction of having made something. I want to see myself reflected in something else that isn't me, that I had a hand in shaping, and that has its own lifecycle and influence apart from me. I'm getting older and am learning how poor memory is as both a record and a mechanism for punctuating time. I want to make stuff not just out of selfish vanity but because doing so is a way of instantiating a part of myself now that can be carried into the future with me as I grow apart from it.

When I read my old blogs, I revisit myself as I was then, not who I remember myself to be now. Those old blogs show me the vast difference between those two perspectives.

I want to be able to write a book of my own. I want to be able to point to a tiny little game prototype and say that it's mine. I want to re-learn how to play the piano (my childhood skills having atrophied after decades of neglect), and I want to do that partly because I dream of composing my own works but also because being able to summon familiar music from your own fingers rather than your speakers is an act of creation itself and a source of fulfilling joy.

I don't even necessarily want to be good at these things, I just want to be able to do them in the first place.

Because I don't do any of these things. I sometimes take a step or two towards them, but never more than that. I've planned out books I've never written a single sentence for. I've started and stopped countless game-making tutorials. I've researched which digital piano to buy year after year. I even bought some sheet music. But I never bought the piano, and if I did, I doubt I'd actually practice it.

I never do enough to meaningfully build a skill or produce something new. I don't smoke weed anymore, but I feel like I approach things in life like I'm high and trying to make a sandwich: wanting an achievable minimum yet unable to take even the most basic steps to get there, while nevertheless “happy” with what little I've “accomplished” because I'm on platforms that feed near-constant “good job” messages to my brain.

I set up this blog over a year ago with the intention to write like I'm doing now. It sat dormant — vacant and hollow — for a full year. I started with the best of intentions: I knew what I wanted to do, I did my research on various blogging platforms, found the one that most aligned with my values, learned how it worked, and even shelled out the money to use it.

And then I did nothing with it. The effort to impart it with writing, meaning, and substance, was simply too much.

Likewise, I set out to write this blog post over a month ago. It has proceeded in starts and stops, but mostly stops. You're reading the completed product right now, but what you didn't see is its absence day after day after day like I did, a product of my debilitating continuous partial intention that has me always wanting to move forward with something while being almost literally unable to. What you're seeing now is the product of the first legitimate effort I have given towards something for my own sake in a good long while — the first time in a long time that I've tried to build something other than a sandcastle.

And it took over a month.

If you're someone who has read and enjoyed my words elsewhere, don't worry: I will continue to build sandcastles. I don't think, however, that it's healthy for me to spend every day at the beach. I'll also continue to make sandwiches — they're tasty and I of course need to eat — but it's better for everyone if I'm not metaphorically or literally high while doing it.

I want to look back, a decade from now, and be able to point to myself in other things — things that took legitimate effort and creativity and thought.

I want to survey my words in ten years and see something other than an ocean at low tide and some freshly smoothed sand awaiting new comments.

That's what I've been looking at for a decade now. I think it's time for a fresh landscape.

There are always people at the beach, but I don't always want to be one of them.