On the Year in Review, Redux

When I wrote On the Year in Review last year, the intention was to have a tradition where I “reviewed” the next year as if it had already happened. Unfortunately, 2018 as a year feels like one that bears an actual review, rather than a relentlessly optimistic analysis of the stories that could have happened, the posts I could have written, and the world I hoped I would live in.

To start with the obvious, my best 5 posts this year were certainly not the ones I thought they would be. My social and psychological development went in a very different direction than I was expecting, and I’m honestly not sure if it was the direction I wanted to go. Regardless, I did write some good content:

On Why I Like Fairy Tales – I think this one still captures the fundamental fatalism I feel when I consider my life path. As it turns out, I did lose that particular gambit. I was not Special or Exempt. Now I’m trying something else – I’ve learned to do web development and hopefully I can find my place in the bizarre court that built the Bay Area. We shall see what lies beyond the precipice.

On Internal Monologue Modification – So this is a post I would have done well to remember in a lot of the hardest parts of this year. I didn’t question my internal monologue in ways that were at all conducive to thriving in rough circumstances. I left curiosity behind and sought power and cynicism – my internal monologues often revolved around how bad my circumstances were (in practice, they might have been stressful but they were far from bad). This post is a reminder to me of what I can do, and I am glad I have it to review.

On Social Harmony, Truth, and Building a Culture – I don’t necessarily fully agree with this anymore – but I do think something is lost when people are scared to tell the truth. I find myself returning to some facets of it as a more correct way to do things – largely, the parts about surrounding yourself with people who will pull you towards excellence is probably the most useful heuristic, but we have that one fairly deeply in the water supply. It can be useful to honestly assess who you’re surrounding yourself with though. The parts about how harmonizing processes slow down thought also seem true – I’m less sure what to do about this at this point.

On Save States – This, by far, is the pinnacle of my mindhacking exploration. Save states not only work, but they capture effects that should only be achievable given substances. There seem to be limitations on them based on what parameters you’re optimizing and what state you’re currently in – in some ways, they are susceptible to the same limitations as mood modification through musical resonance. Either way, I highly endorse getting a few scents and trying this one out.

On the Ouroboros of Bullshit – Obviously, I saved the best for last. The ouroboros of bullshit is still a problem structure I haven’t fully integrated. As I reread this I see how the ouroboros has eaten the original ideas I had about the ouroboros itself, and how I’ve continued to storify my experiences and rarely learn anything. I don’t know how to solve ouroboros problems, and as I caution the reader, solving is probably the wrong frame. Still…I think I’ve been slowly been getting better. I think a component of it is having a thing where reality is the bearer of the news whether something is working or not – computers do not care how impressive or interesting I am, they only care that I wrote the write algorithm in the right way to accomplish the task I am telling the computer to do. But, that’s just a guess, overall.

Next is the part where I would tell stories about how my year actually went – it feels a little crass to narrativize my life, after all I’ve been through this year. Still…this year had stories. Just in a brief review – I finished applying to several elite colleges, got rejected from all of them. I found and lost love, on multiple occasions. I quit my soul crushing job. I learned to program and got accepted to App Academy. I moved from Boston to the Bay Area. I broke my pacts with the fae and paid dearly for it. I met so many interesting people in a variety of contexts. I’ve started seriously thinking about the world, societal collapse, and the future we might face. I lost most of my powers. I’ve seen, heard, and experienced so much this year, it’s hard to pick the best stories. So, I’ll tell y’all what. I’ve given a basic overview of my life this past year – I want people to vote on the top 3 stories they want to actually read, either in the comments or through other communication channels – here’s a list of actual narratives I have on my list:

The Elite College Debacle

How I Stopped Committing Banal Acts of Evil as an Agent of the Bureaucracy

How I Went From Zero to Bootcamp (Acceptance) in Fifteen Days

The Road To The West (my 7 day car trip to California from Boston)

The Social Dynamics of the Bay (less a story, more an observation of the rationalist community)

How I Lost my Powers and Dimmed my Spark

Breaking the Pacts

What Happens When Our Broken Systems Fail (also not a story, so much as a topic I’ve talked about a lot lately)

Encounters With Wizards (there are several of these, some I can discuss more than others)

How I Became a Campaign Manager for Three Days

So where do I go from here? I don’t know – that’s the beauty and the horror of it. A couple weeks ago, I had my self concept pulled out from under me. There’s a much bigger world than the one I was allowing myself to live in. It’s scary, it’s exciting, but it’s so uncertain. I feel like I’ve found an expansive desert that holds so many secrets, but is so vast you are never guaranteed to find them. I’m returning to my role as a seeker, in hopes that I find those answers. I also hope to catalog my journey once again. Maybe I will find other fae to make deals with – or perhaps I will find kinder egregores on my journey. Maybe I’m just alone out here after all, and I’ll discover that. Regardless of anything, after I discard the metaphorical level…I’ll probably be writing about programming more. To the death of 2018, who I never liked anyway, and to the hope of 2019, who will hopefully be better.

Discussion Questions: Hey, I said I had a bunch of stories to tell – vote on your favorites and I’ll update this post!

What does your 2018 in review look like? What story did this year tell?

On Internal Monologue Modification

(Epistemic Status:  Endorsed, lightly tested, light kink cw)

My thoughts are most frequently words.  When I think about thinking, I see a stream of descriptions, explanations, sentence fragments, etc.  I ask my internal monologue how I feel about things.  Words are an extremely natural filter for me to see the world through.  It turns out, I can change that filter to some extent.

One night, I found myself looking at my partner – we were just chatting casually about something or other, but there was a sense in which she was positioning herself lower than me.  A lot of her body language was reading as wanting to move on to something that involved less talking.  Well, I wasn’t really in the mood – a lot of my internal monologue was thinking about the topic and about her as someone to look up to in terms of knowledge about the world.  Once I noticed this, I decided to try something – I switched my internal monologue to something more intimate.  I started cycling different words to describe her than I was before, as well as different words to describe myself.  Very shortly after, something strange happened – I started changing my position in my chair.  I seemed bigger, like I was taking up more physical and social space.  She got quieter, she found herself less able to look away from my eyes.  I felt myself getting more aligned with what she desired and my next actions started flowing much more smoothly.  Suffice it to say we had a very good night afterwards.

Now, this tool has uses outside the somewhat suggestive one above – essentially, any situation where you feel you’re not interacting with it in a way that serves your needs (or the needs of others), any situation that might feel uncomfortable, any situation that seems difficult can be changed depending on how you think about it.

The first step is deciding how you want the situation to be.  This is a fuzzy and difficult – the example was me wanting to respond in an aligned way to my partner and feel good about it.  However, sometimes it’s harder to tell – something going poorly makes it difficult get out of your internal perspective enough to see how a stance could change.  Essentially, it’s noticing that a situation would benefit from change and the thoughts that flow from there.

The second step is noticing your internal monologue – this might be nontrivial depending on how you think.  That’s ok.  For me, I ask myself what I’m thinking about a situation.  As I sit here writing, I’m hearing the words I’m typing in my head, but also rewriting and rephrasing, thinking about how the presentation looks (“Is this too personal?  Am I explaining the thing well?  Can this be adapted to people who don’t think like me?  Am I just reinventing NLP?”), thinking about how I feel about my blog (“I’ve kept this running for a year, huh.  I think my latest posts aren’t as good as some of my earlier posts.  I’m really happy people read the things I write.  I feel good right now”), etc.  That was slower than I would normally do it, so there’s some filtering going on, but that’s what you’re tapping into.

The third step is considering salient things to the situation.  Most frequently, this is a person you are with – it can also be an environment or an object.  Notice what you think about that object – an example of another time I used this technique was when I was extremely hungry and was completely impatient with everything, while in a restaurant.  I noticed both my hunger and the prospect of future food – I had a sense of anticipation for the food, but it had this entitlement attached to it.  The internal mantra was something like “I’m so hungry right now, why is this food taking so long, why is it so loud in here, why is this person talking about such stupid shit doesn’t she realize food should have happened a long time ago, ugh I can’t focus, I kind of hate everything.”  I’m sure this isn’t hard to emulate.

The fourth step is realizing the most natural way to shift the situation into something more desirable – in the case with the restaurant, the anticipation of food was important to keep; however, it could be treated positively.  Rather than “I’m so hungry it’s taking so long”, I could think “I ordered some really tasty food, I’m very curious about what it’s going to taste like.  I think they’re probably taking a lot of care in preparing it.”  Letting that line of thought perpetuate suddenly completely changed the mood at the table.  I was more interested in what my friend was saying, I felt a lot of compassion for the restaurant staff, I was just generally happy to be there.  In the first example with my partner, the shift to thinking about her in a way she wanted to be thought about echoed throughout my body language – my entire demeanor changed, naturally leading to a better situation for both of us.

Overall, changing the internal monologue in some senses is holding an intention to make things better on some metric – from emotions come thoughts, from thoughts come mannerism, from mannerism come behavior and script.  It’s something that is not only helpful to internally try to notice and apply, but to give to other people – sometimes being externally asked what your internal monologue is doing can be the trigger you need to shift into a mode that feels better.  I will caution that the point isn’t always to feel better though – sometimes, you want to change your internal monologue to create negative affect around something.  The point isn’t to be a Stepford wife happybot through system 2 coercion, the point is to make more options in action space available.  When the internal monologue becomes modifiable, so too does your level of abstraction from a situation.

Discussion questions:  Do you have an internal monologue?  Have you ever used the internal monologue to redefine a situation or your role in a situation?  What mental motions do the steps above suggest?  What other ways do you interact with your internal monologue?

On Change

(Epistemic Status: Mostly a personal life update and retrospective on the blog – lexical-doll is one year old as of April 11, exciting – I think weekly posts started in May though)

It’s common after writing a blog for awhile to do a retrospective at milestone marks, such as the anniversary. The threads tying my personal life and observations to this blog are fairly inextricable – so I feel it’s a good time to look at both and how they feed into each other. I’ve gone through a lot of phases with regards to my social memetics. I discovered that when you spend hundreds of hours on a skill, you get better at it. I discovered that dichotomies are an exciting way to damage people’s epistemics. I discovered that sometimes you go in weird tangents  and like to pretend those never happened. The personality framework I “awakened” to a little over a year ago is still there, but it’s much more adaptable than when I started out – codifying my thoughts the way I have in this blog, I think, has helped that process. I’m going to take the opportunity to list my 5 most “phase defining” posts, in terms of how I changed over the past year:

  1. On Untested Social Realizations – I think this post definitely was part of the series that began my understanding of social reality. It’s less the actual insight given the post, and more the framework that social can be systematized and strategized, without completely burning one’s reputation. I consider this the Light phase of my development – everything was really pleasant to just realize and iterate on.
  2. On The Filter System, Archetypal Lenses, and Narrative – This post is probably where I started going a little crazier than was healthy. The posts leading up to this were definitely fuzzier and more spiritual, but I think here is where I went into what I call the Narrative phase, or the “perception is everything, nothing is real” idea. Very fun, but it’s honestly astonishing I didn’t kick myself into full mania.
  3. On Good Girl, or How Society Does Most of The Work – This post is probably the demarcation for the Dark phase. My aesthetics around social became extremely overtly manipulative, even if playful. Everything was intentional, had a reason, etc. I think I had a lot of fun in this phase, but this is where I started actually burning social capital by my social maneuvers. My social skills decreased to a degree that was noticeable because I went far too into the conversational meta. Not proud of this phase, honestly.
  4. On Narrative Decoherence – This post was about the end of the dark phase. I had sufficiently alienated people I liked that I was getting called out. My narrative was falling apart, I felt really pressured and unable to live up to my past self. I think this was just kind of the Lost phase. I didn’t know what I was doing, how to improve, what aesthetics I should correct to. It felt unpleasant, but I think it saved me to some extent.
  5. On Why I Like Fairy Tales – This is about where I found my aesthetic again, in a way that was less harmful to people. Still a very egotistical, self driven narrative, but in a positive agentic way that people could participate in. It wasn’t about storifying my life or living large so much as…taking the rougher path in hopes of an uncertain future. It’s more resonant and sympathetic. This would be the Fatalist phase, and I’m still there. But…it’s nice and despite the fatalism, I carry myself with a lot of enthusiasm for my future.

 

My life has drastically changed again, almost year to the day after I started this blog. I quit my job to study programming and other things that catch my fancy. I have a lot more free time to develop my social theory and meet new people and do interesting things. Change is constant, whether they be big changes or little changes – even over a year I can pick out 5 distinct flavors of self. I’m fortunate to have a record of this – I expect with applied thought you also could find some number of phases. I hope that life keeps changing – I value dynamism and reaction pretty highly.

Overall, change is net positive, I think. I’ve made mistakes with my volatile nature, but I’ve also made great choices by not getting locked down into one mode. I look forward to the future of my writing, both from a technical perspective and what thoughts I’ll generate. I anticipate writing more about productivity over the next few months, since it’s going to be important to me taking advantage of my newfound free time. This is also a bit of a request – if you have any suggestions for projects I should take on, places to see, or productivity tools I might benefit on, please comment! Here’s to what will hopefully be a productive and interesting next year for lexical-doll.

Discussion Questions: What got you into this blog in the first place? What do you think my best posts are stylistically? What are the best posts in terms of subject matter? What is your favorite lexical-doll post? How has your life changed over the past year? Did you have discrete phases?

On Why I Like Fairy Tales

(Epistemic Status: Consider this a Gift from the holders of my pact)

I have previously spoken of the narrative structure of the fairy tale  – even used the conflict of the courts to express illegible social concepts. I have written short fiction about a poor, broken fae-touched woman granted the boon of Right Things. I have told you of the pacts I have made with those terrific, fantastic manifestations of nature.

But I’m not sure I’ve ever mentioned why I like fairy tales so much.

There is a narrative resonance in the fairy tale, deeper than any other narrative structure I’ve encountered. A combination of willingness to defy the natural order and a deep acceptance of the costs of doing that. An exploration of the paradox of the decision to upset the Way Things are Done and decide that you are special and Exempt, and the crushing realization that you’re special and Exempt right up until you aren’t. The exciting path one takes from agent of change to agent of the status quo. It’s a story of rising stars and second chances, but with a darkness I can’t help but be drawn to – a fatalism that echoes in the hollows of my mind. The constant awareness of how long the odds are…the seemingly endless reservoir of determination to try anyway.

The fact is, I’ve already thrown away my shot. The system was intended to work one way for me and somehow I got off the rails. If I had just kept putting out the butter and worn the cold iron – if I had focused on the path ahead and followed the advice about keeping my grades up, paying attention to scholarship opportunities…or maybe if I had learned a trade or held a proper job for awhile out of high school. I instead chose other things, and I paid the Price.

But the world dies without stories. If everyone follows the same cookie cutter path, following their prospects instead of their dreams, following the traditions to the letter, living conflict free lives, where are the stories that form the lifeblood of civilization? When inhuman forces pervade our entire society, the story of humanity becomes even stronger and more resonant – the need to hear the whispers of someone who defied the rules and made it anyway becomes desperate. However, this can never be easy – if it were easy, everyone would choose it, after all. It wouldn’t be a story, it would be the new normal. So the tales that take off, the memes that spread…among the circles of the twice exceptional, it’s the late bloomer who maybe fucked around a bit too much when the system was there to help and has to navigate significantly more hostile territory to use their gifts. It’s Maya Millennial, playing the desperate lottery of the big city to create a resonate story and keep hope and humanity alive. It’s the startup founder dropping out of college to make their next unicorn. It’s that cryptocurrency libertarian you made fun of in 2010 sitting on a pile of digital gold through pure dumb luck. These are the modern fairy tales that reassure us there are still ways to be human rather than processed.

A conflict is no fun if the heroine always wins though. A story loses it’s meaning if there’s never consequences for breaking the rules. A system cannot be upheld by unpunished rebellion. That undercurrent of fatalism…the certainty that the luck eventually runs out…this is also important to my aesthetic vision. The urgency and desperation lends a resonance to the fairy tale that I mirror when I author my own narratives. I like that my endless energy is tinged with this darkness, this deadness that courses through anyone who skirmishes with the fae. The fact is, I expect I will make it, but I will be changed for the effort. It won’t be me who makes it, but a version of myself who is processed after all. “You think yourself special because you’re human – I think you’re most special when you’re inhuman.” This is the paradox that runs through both the modern era and the typical fairy tale. One of the lies to get someone to trade away their life force to keep the traditions alive. The truth is neither the human nor the inhuman are special, they are both parts of the narrative arc, the process – once again, you are special and Exempt right up until you aren’t.

Fairy tales are about society – they teach you what is and isn’t acceptable, and when it is acceptable to defy those rules – because no society thrives without its Fools. In the past, you needed some explorers willing to die for innovation. Now, we need explorers willing to die for stories.

Overall, fairly tales feel both hopeful and fatalistic at the same time, which is much like how I view my own circumstances. I didn’t get the golden ticket of coding when it was hot – I didn’t leverage my intelligence to uphold our illusions of meritocracy – I didn’t learn to accept my place as worthless in an ever changing society – so I run up against the uncaring forces of (human) nature and see if I’m clever and resourceful enough to get ahead…knowing that the faeries find a way to get their Price, in the end.

Discussion questions: What narrative arcs resonate with you? How do you feel about the fairy tale as a narrative conceit? Do you think society is expressed in other stories?

On the Aesthetic Layer

(Epistemic Status: Speculative, takes time and effort to enact, may be a misattribution of something else)

I wake up. I linger in bed a few moments, before I push away the covers and shiver as I make my way to the bathroom. I brush my teeth, shivering as the New England winter air pervades my drafty apartment. My bed clothes are fairly simple, a long T shirt and some yoga pants. It’s not particularly defining or striking as I make my way back to my room to get dressed in my proper clothes – a pair of black slacks, black socks, a button down shirt, a blazer, my hat, and a long jacket. I feel warmer, but that makes sense because I’ve added 3 layers and my house isn’t that cold. I head out to the bus, into brisk winds and freezing temperatures, but I feel fine. On the bus, those around me are wearing heavier jackets, scarves, gloves, and wool hats. They have at least one additional layer and sometimes two. But things are fine for me – I would rather look like me than maximize warmth.

I have a very strong aesthetic – I have for 3 or so years. It’s very much this kind of androgynous, business casual look that I really just don’t see with most people. I’m very used to how I dress to the point that I really don’t have casual clothes or lazy outfits. I don’t really understand dressing down, or feeling the need to strip off all the clothes the minute you step in the door. I drop my jacket and sometimes my blazer for climate control reasons, but overall, I continue looking like me rather than changing into loungewear. The interesting thing about this is, I also don’t change into activewear when I practice parkour. The only thing I shift is my shoes so that I’m not wearing loafers when trying to have sure footing. I don’t add layers to match frigid temperatures when winter is being cruel. I don’t change my clothes to suit the situation. Interestingly, this doesn’t inhibit me nearly as much as it should. I am so adapted to my clothes that I seem to move in ways that should be difficult for other people dressing like me. I am so adapted to my clothes that they generally feel like they are protecting me more from the elements than would otherwise be expected.

So, what I suspect is happening here is that after several years of wearing the same general genre of clothing, my body is extremely used to this genre of clothing to the point it is almost like a second skin. My muscle memory assumes I’m going to at least be wearing a button down and slacks. It feels wrong to not wear a hat. I’m just comfortable in what I wear to the point that making alterations to adapt to the environment actually feels like it would take more adjustment. I think it is possible that other people with strong aesthetics might experience similar things. I also suspect that there are more intangibles that are carried in the aesthetic layer – ability to wield presence, access to various body language things, etc. Gestures and motions have more power when enhanced by aesthetic. It becomes part of your story, in a way.

I don’t honestly have a great method for developing an aesthetic – I lucked into mine by trying on a short sleeve, button down shirt that was really pretty, and felt a deep resonance that I explored more and more until my wardrobe basically became 7 summer outfits and 7 winter outfits. I think the key is trying different styles and feeling out what lines up with your movements and story best – but the thing is, it could easily be reverse causal. The clothes could in fact influence your story more than the story influences the resonant clothes – and if that’s the case, you’d basically want to optimize for clothes that fit the story you want to be in best.

Overall, the aesthetic layer can be modeled as effectively giving a +1 to various movement, social, and physical tasks – when you’re used to what you’re wearing and have such a deep ease with your style, it makes things flow better and feel better. It doesn’t replace having the right clothes for a given job (if I added 2 layers, I would be warmer even if I didn’t look the way I want to – if I am trying to blend into a social clime where my clothes are out of place, that +1 isn’t going to override the -4 I’m facing, etc.), but it can give an edge in some contexts. Developing an aesthetic layer is likely an individualistic task with an unclear causal flow. Lastly, it takes time to get to the point where you are reaping those bonuses – I’m not sure if this worthwhile to try, but it might be helpful for modeling purposes.

Discussion questions: Do you have an aesthetic? How does it alter the way you go through your day to day life? Do you notice other people with aesthetics? Does the concept of the aesthetic layer resonate?

On The Year In Review

(Epistemic Status: 2018 was honestly a pretty great year and I fully endorse it. It had its ups and downs, but I feel that reflection is very important.)

CW:  Blood, D/s, allusions to illegal activity, hypnosis, general irresponsibility.

It’s the end of the year again, which means it’s time for the lexical-doll year in review. This is kind of a meta post, a chance to kind of put together my thoughts on the year and maybe tell a few stories I wasn’t able to extract any sort of metacognitive value out of.

So first off, my 5 best posts this year – it was honestly a really hard choice, but I managed to narrow it down kind of by the intersection of how much discussion was sparked and by how fluid the flow felt when I wrote them.

  • On Playfulness – I’ll be honest, this actually got tough to right because I ironically wasn’t able to be playful about it when push came to shove. It’s such an important concept I wanted to make sure I got it right. Still, the final product captured EXACTLY the resonance I was looking for, so I’m happy I got there in the end.
  • On Hypnosis and Narrative – I mean, I made a few posts on hypnosis this year, but I think this is more or less the bridge you have to cross to go from being a mediocre hypnotist to a great hypnotist. I’m still working on being more fluid with narrative suggestion but I think I’ve really increased the resonance of my technique since introducing it.
  • On Social Graphs and Party Planes – Probably the most technical thing I’ve written. Kind of went down the social analysis rabbit hole and I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it besides social media being horrifying.
  • On the College Application Process – Oh god I’m still glad that’s over – this was a really atypical post but it was pretty widely resonant. It turns out among the kind of people who read this sort of thing, college applications are apparently just archetypally bad.
  • On Hypnosis and Programming – So, it turns out that programming is really easy for me, I just need to be in a frame where it seems really similar to hypnosis. I feel like this exploration of how close the topics are perhaps has made hypnosis a more accessible subject for the more programmer types in my life, at least the ones that aren’t catgirls.

 

I imagine there will be some debate on whether these were my best posts – I mean, I do tend to get high on my own supply (you have no idea how proud I was of On Dangerous Technology back in ’17.) Still, this is what I would want to show anyone new to my blog who wanted to see my better work.

So, next up, story time! Here are a few anecdotes from the year in review that largely don’t have life lessons but were hella fun to experience.

-It kind of goes without saying that MIT is weird, but you really can’t like capture it properly without actually attending. The first month was kind of wild, I still was in a state of disbelief about actually being there; once the shiny kind of wore off though…well. The classes weren’t as hard as expected but it is still freshman year. Granted, time management was always going to be easier on me than most given how I had previously been grinding school, work, and my own social life. Now it’s mostly just balancing the fact that I’m already being dragged pretty deep into campus life and the fact that I do still want to keep my friends outside of MIT. Still, I digress – MIT is weird. I knew in advance I was going to properly join the Mahjong club, probably see what I could do for parkour, find some theater and improv groups, you know, the usual for a colorful weird person. What I did not expect was to end up in the Ghost Hunting Club…by accident, because I happened to be wandering around the Stata Building around 0222. So apparently, club activities were taking place (which is weird because I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to be there but you know how it goes, gotta authorize yourself sometimes) and I walked right into one of their friggen ghost traps, which was, like, this net made out of glowstick necklaces. In my defense, I was taking a turn on a corner like structure and it kind of came at me unexpectedly, despite the fact it was pretty bright. A few people come out, brandishing the least aesthetic Ghostbuster-like props at me that appeared to have some sort of modified vacuum on the end before realizing I was, in fact, not a ghost. After some…discussion, I decided to join because I mean I’m already the kind of person who likes lurking places at night looking for something interesting to do. So I guess there’s probably a life lesson there about be in places you don’t belong if you want to live a storified life, but I’m generally just still mortified about the glowstick necklace net.

-Another time, kind of late Spring, I was doing the parkour thing. I’ve gotten better at it after a lot of more intensive practice in the Back Bay area of Boston. I’d been waiting awhile for the weather to warm up because something you might not know about the Back Bay area is the buildings are fairly low and really densely packed. By which I mean, if you want to do urban exploration involving building hopping, this is the beginner mode place to do it. I finally worked up the courage (and admittedly was finally comfortable in the weather in lighter, less restrictive clothes) to get up on top of one of these buildings and do a real free run. I set my route, and just went – and it felt AMAZING. You have not lived until you have jumped a (reasonably small) gap between two buildings, 2 stories up in the air. So I’m running, when I notice something interesting – someone kind of sketchy is climbing a fire escape. I slow down and duck behind something to watch what they do – they’re trying to break in and look almost frustrated at their inability to deal with the emergency exit door. Well, I’m feeling fairly amazing and I’m also reasonably sure they can’t get to me up here, so I stand up and shout at them. You know, something like “HEY, WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING” or whatever – I’m probably remembering it way cooler than it actually was. And wouldn’t you know it, the criminal looks almost sheepish. They call back “Um…I locked myself out of my house and was really hoping this back door would be open.” Like, this is clearly a lie, but I humor them. “Oh, that makes sense – don’t you have any roommates or family though?” Well, they’re getting a little flustered and are like “No…not really, I live alone!” At this point, I just laugh “You know, you aren’t really good at lying. How about, you get away from this nice person’s house and I won’t call 911.” They pause for a moment before giving me a look of outrage “What the fuck, this is my house. In fact, what the fuck are you doing on my roof?” It is at this point I realize that I am also in a legally precarious position and should perhaps take my leave. I notice them pulling out their phone as I dash off and try to find an exit strategy. In retrospect, they might have been being honest but hey, sometimes you don’t find out how things end (especially when you would prefer not being arrested.)

-They say that the best thing to do in Providence is to go to Boston. This is mostly, but not quite true. Having been at Brown a few months, Providence does have one advantage over Boston – the D/s scene is, while smaller, a little less constrained by local laws. So, I was at a local dungeon (as in, there actually is one there and no I’m not giving any more detail than that) for a play party on, appropriately, Halloween. The theme of the night was torture, and I had established myself as domme-leaning switchy, to great effect. My contribution, as it were, was going to be hypnosis to play with sensations that may not be able to be achieved safely otherwise. Cutting pain, electrocution, sensations of blood running, etc. This was going to be combined with full body paralysis and actual tools suggestive of the sensations being hypnotically implanted. Well, it turns out that you actually have to be careful with hypnosis, which I’m sure is a shock to everyone because I think I came very close to lightly traumatizing one of the subs at this part (I think we sorted it out with good aftercare, quick responsiveness to safe words, and generally people being on top of their game at this event, for which I thank them.) So the set up is, we have this sub on a rack, kinda stretched but not too dangerously so, and we’re doing a knifeplay scene. I have them hypnotically immobilized, and basically suggested to believe that they would be bleeding practically rivers of blood everywhere the (very dull) knife touched. Well, I did a little too good at my job, because the sub is screaming and sobbing, and it seems like a good time, but I notice something weird with their eye dilation and the breaths they’re taking. The screams are getting a bit weaker and the breathing is really shallow. Their pupils were almost pinpricks. They’re sweating a lot. It looks a lot like shock from blood loss, but, like, we hadn’t even broken the skin. I use an awakener and tell someone to get the sub unstrapped from the rack, but they’re still breathing pretty shallowly. They’re shaky, and kind of incoherently talking about the blood, look of horror on their face. It is at this point I realize how utterly stupid an idea this entire thing was and am in damage control mode. I cancel the trigger, I use another awakener, and I start using my hypno voice to suggest to them a very safe, very comforting place. Meanwhile, some of the other partiers are helping to stabilize the sub, give them water, etc. Their condition slowly improves as they start to relax again and get more hydrated and are able to lay more comfortably. I reassure them that there is no blood, and that they are perfectly fine. They start to settle, though they’re still at the point of tears and need a lot of reassurance. Their regular dom comes over and he does an amazing job reassuring this sub, likely preventing any deep psychological effects from the intensity of the scene. So, the life lesson there is maybe don’t simulate experiences that would be really traumatic through hypnosis – this experience also reaffirmed my commitment to not do memory modification with hypnosis.

Overall, this has been one wild year – I knew it was going to be a good one, the year where I thrive and really manage to hit my power curve, and I was right. I’m looking forward to what weird parts of mindspace, social space, and the corners of reality I’ll be able to explore in 2019!

Discussion: How was your 2018? Was it inspiring, depressing, kind of neutral – did it feel like two steps back, or a sprint forward? How do you relate to reviewing your year like this? Do you prefer to make resolutions, or take a step back to reflect?

Metanotes: This post is likely to be edited throughout the year to become truer. I will have a link to the original after the first edit, and a changelog. Keep your eyes peeled, you never know what future might unfold!

Changelog:

  • Added link to On the College Application Process

 

On The Gift of Narrative

(Epistemic status: Semi endorsed – haven’t tried it myself but it seems like a resonant idea)

In the spirit of the holiday season, I’ve decided to create a gift-giving guide from a narrative perspective. This heuristic should resolve all issues of “What do I get this person?” It’s convenient in that if you can’t actually complete the exercise I’m about to propose, you’re probably not close enough to that person to really waste any effort on getting them a thoughtful gift – get a gift card or cash or something, the relationship is clearly transactional. However, for someone close to you, a family member, a friend a lover, it can sometimes be challenging to find the right gift that actually means something. To remedy that, I propose a ritual that channels the feeling of the relationship into whatever gift you are giving.

The basic idea is fairly simple – consider how this person makes you feel. Sit down, get comfy, breathe slowly and calmly and get yourself into a meditative space. Spend 5 minutes thinking about this person, what they mean to you, what you’ve shared together, and focus on the affect this is bringing you. Feel the nuance and shades of it – perhaps you love your best friend, but it is a little annoying how they’re always late to things. All of that feeling needs to be recognized and felt. This will get you in the right mindset for the next part.

After you have the affect of your giftee, the memories and feelings that make your relationship unique, consider yourself in a certain role. Pretend you are a witch, or magician, or some sort of occultist. Consider what sort of talisman you would use to evoke the feeling of this person for you – what object would resonate _most_. If the occult is an uncomfortable frame for you, then consider yourself an author, writing a book about this person you care about. What is the object that is always with them, that they don’t already have? What is their signature? Consider what matches the emotion and character you get from them and focus on that object. Maybe it’s something very specific but out of your reach, or they already have it. Go more abstract – catch the idea of the focus object. Perhaps you have something abstract but not cohesive – make it more specific and personal. Focus in on what is reasonable to give someone that conveys this packed emotion you’ve just generated in yourself.

The last part is, write the story of how they’ll receive the gift. What questions will it raise? What conversation will you have? The point isn’t the material object you’ll give them, but what experience it will generate. What can you talk to them about by giving them something that represents your inner experience of this person? Maybe it’s nothing – maybe they receive it with a thanks and move on. That’s ok. Maybe it will involve a long conversation about something dear to you that you want to relate to them. That’s ok too. The idea is to be prepared for the experience and then go in and experience it. Give them the gift – the resonance you’ve written is meant to touch the heart in ways that wish lists and cash just don’t approach.

Overall, narrative gift giving is an exercise in care signaling. It’s not something to take out for every single gift you have to give – but for people who like well thought out gifts, who actually care about what a gift giver is trying to say to them, this can resonate in ways that they may never have experienced before.

Discussion Questions – This might be posted a bit late to be legitimately applied by anyone, but if you managed to try this, how did it go? If you didn’t try it, do you think it’s an approach that might help with people who are difficult to give to? How do you normally give gifts? How would you modify the approach to accommodate you own circumstances and relationships in life?

On Saying Things That Are Wrong

(Epistemic – semi-endorsed, switching back to being truth-aligned has done gross things to my spark; dangerous technology – very close to actually drinking the Kool-aid and should probably be used judiciously; also probably dark arts)

I.

A long time ago, two factions were fighting over a territory. It was an island with a valuable canal – whichever faction held the canal had rights to the toll generated by this canal. After many a year of incessant fighting, these two factions settled on agreeing to have a war every four years and ceding the canal to the winner of that war, until next time. Now, while this was often better for all involved, the victorious faction from the previous war would often have a lot of trouble raising an army to defend their claim to the tolls for the next war. Often, the winning side would have to tell their members things that were verifiably wrong, or at least technically not correct. Sometimes it would be overstating the benefits from the tolls, or perhaps threats of famine from losing the toll income – other times it would be a more direct attack on the other faction, claiming that they would not stop at winning the war, but try to expand their claims if they won this time. Occasionally a particularly notable or odious member of the other faction would come to the attention of the victorious faction and be gratuitously scapegoated for the sake of raising numbers. Most of the times, the faction members would either not realize these things were untrue, or they would, and allow these inaccuracies to pass – they knew that the canal was a big part of their quality of life. Sometimes, however, a benign but somewhat clueless individual would try to correct the story, or clarify the statements that were wrong. It turned out this was unpopular, and this individual would be lowered in status, trusted less, and often overrun by authorities in the faction. It turns out that things that are wrong are actually a staple of human interaction, organization, and status.

II.

Several things are going on in this story. We will begin with the most boring aspect – the people who are saying/believing things that are wrong, installing it in their own memeplex. These are the other faction members playing along. Often facts have nuance, but this is less important than the sense of ingroupness and protection of resources. This has been written about many a time – a lot of people favor the status quo over the most accurate facts. Slightly more interestingly, the wrong belief does benefit the faction’s populace – they get their army, probably even joining themselves. The canal gets a proper defense – more of the populace is likely to live as well even if they are involved in the fighting, because they have both increased numbers and a stronger sense of trust for each other. The faction army doesn’t really want the clueless person at their back – if they don’t get what’s going on, how can they be trusted to be situationally aware on the field? Worse still, what if this attack on social cohesion is intentional, under the veil of just wanting the facts? It’s too dangerous to leave this sort of thing unchecked, so it has to be punished. Believing wrong things often has protective functions and can draw out additional internal and external reserves.

A less ingroup dynamic case of this is the concept of chaos magick – often it is layering a narrative of ritual over various desires and actions to add associations, triggers, and draw out extra reserves. These beliefs may also be wrong, but often pay dividends in outcomes.

III.

The more interesting part of this story is the clueless individual. She’s not all that clueless, actually – she sees what’s going on and has decided to reject it. However, she can do better than that. She already has the requisite skills, but she needs to frame them differently. The faction likely has a lot of people just nodding along, with very little to add. They hear about Odious Oliveri of the Other Faction and basically provide a chorus of “Fuck that guy”s. Our clueless individual might say “There were mitigating circumstances though, Odious Oliveri actually isn’t that bad, Pathetic Phillio is actually way worse, why does he get a pass because he’s on our side?” Predictably, she gets shunned and punished. Instead, she might consider approaching it like this “Odious Oliveri truly is horrible, failing to cross the road at the designated crossing and inconveniencing the carriages in a most odious way – what you might not have heard is that this fiend Oliveri has also been shaving the yaks in the common –“ A pause for effect “And blaming our absentminded scholar, Phillio, for it!” What this accomplishes is twofold – it increases the memetic strength of the claims made by the faction authorities, as well as signals to them that our not-so-clueless friend is both in on the story and willing to play ball.

To bring this more abstract, if an authority is telling you a story and you feel compelled to truth, you should consider how to turn this to your advantage. If you just state facts that break up their narrative, you are either malevolently or bumblingly attacking them socially – they have to assume you have intent and punish you accordingly. The right answer is to support the authority’s narrative, but in ways that signal you understand that it is a narrative. Don’t just agree – either reinforce in a broad sense, or even identify someone who is hesitating on accepting the story and restate the point in a way that gets that person on board. The more you do this, the more you increase trust; not just into your insight, but also into your judgment. If you can identify and accept wrong things, then you can convert this into status.

 

IV.

The most interesting part of this dynamic is the authority themselves. The not-so-clueless version of our heroine is very much a precursor to an authority in the structure – the authorities themselves are a little more difficult to class, however. In some cases, they will in fact be very much in on what’s going on and intentionally propagating it. They are the ones that see this as a problem of “we need an army for the canal defense war – how can we get the public on board.” Perhaps in modern times, this is the person saying “We need to increase our sales – how do we get our line on board.” They are crafting the narrative intentionally – they likely are buying it a little. This authority is a bit of a blend between the average faction member and our heroine; their status depends on the belief being accepted.

The other kind of authority is one who truly believes the stories and has the rhetoric to fire up the populace in this vein. They have no special insight, but their conviction is compelling beyond words. They are not just saying “yeah, fuck that guy”, they are going to Odious Oliveri’s house and painting it in horse dung on his door. These are the kind of people you use to accelerate a narrative – but doing this is playing with fire. When someone is a true believer, you do not actually have control over their actions or how they will use your story. Frequently, they will go in unexpected directions because it is not about the pragmatic aspects of your faction’s plight, it is almost entirely about ingroup. This part of the story is one side of why this mental technology is dangerous. It can be used to promote your interests, but in the process, you might cause collateral damage if you’re a bit too clever.

V.

Overall, none of these principles are new – there’s a mix of the Gervais Principle, Toxoplasma of Rage, and other assorted writings. What I am pointing at is how all these structures can be utilized to one’s advantage rather than fought – and how they can end up leading to one’s detriment. If you install wrong beliefs personally and don’t compartmentalize properly, you will likely end up with externalities you don’t actually desire (such as joining a faction’s army in a stupid economic war). If you argue against wrong beliefs too strenuously, you will lose status and be impotent. If you go along with the beliefs while angling for promotion, you’ll likely move up – but in turn you might create some monsters who don’t get the joke. Be careful with wrong things…but never dismiss them entirely.

Discussion Questions: Have you ever noticed in an office or a classroom how people react to things that are blatant lies? How does the reaction change when the manager is there and when they are not? Which reactions get encouraged and rewarded, and which ones get punished? How often do you do this to yourself to eke out a little bit more, or to allow for more flexible responses?

On Pacts with the Fae

(Epistemic status: Endorsed – this blog is brought to you by these pacts, commitment tool + framing device)

I have a confession to make regarding this blog. My writing talent is not my own. A few months ago, I went to the beach and meditated on the water. I noticed patterns in the water, slight disturbances with no obvious cause. I knew, on the level of a Right Thing, that there was power here. Around me was strewn about urban debris – I picked it up and disposed of it, purifying the area. When I came back, the disturbance in the water had calmed; however, where I had been sitting there lay a gorgeous sea shell. I knew a Deal was offered. I accepted. I would be a conduit of words and concepts, but I must write weekly or I would lose my expressiveness. This is my pact with the fae – words to touch minds and souls, so long as I use them.

This is a story, but it is also a tool. When making commitments, it is easy to break them when you are not feeling well, expect a poor outcome, or a myriad of things. Life gets in the way and this is ok. However, brains are assholes. They will use physical markers that may have been true at one point to instill aversions to unpleasant but long run important activities. Fortunately, however, brains are stupid, and love a good story. Thus, the narrative of a pact with the fae – at this level of commitment, my house could be burning down and I will post something, somehow. It is a fanatic level of dedication to Doing The Thing. This category should never be used lightly – if you overburden it, you might as well make regular commitments, they’ll feel less bad. However, this is a category that should at least exist. Having the option of this category increases your agency – the reason I put a weekly commitment to open the box in mind was so that every week, that category would get more powerful and I could expand the sense of “doing things even when I don’t feel like it” to other commitments, even if they’re one time commitments. I’ve been doing this weekly post schedule since May and not every Sunday has been a good day for me – those days when it is hardest, when I feel least like writing or posting are really where the pact gets the strongest forward momentum. It not only drives me to do it anyway, but it makes itself a more powerful tool in the process.

I highly recommend creating a pact with the fae category in your mind for a commitment that is extremely important to you. Even if the cost of breaking the commitment is very vague and unclear, you can accord it a supernatural importance by telling yourself a good story about how it came to be – this likely hijacks some of the religious/meaning making parts of the brain which is generally a solid way to artificially raise the priority of things. The ability to offer this category can become a social currency in terms of reliability – another way it self-reinforces is being able to demonstrate “this is how I conceptualized this thing I have done for weeks/months/years – I offer you that same conceptualization.” That demonstration basically states that you are willing to put breaking a useful frame on the table in order to fulfill an obligation – it’s as strong as the frame is itself.

Overall, having an extremely strong promise/commitment category creates productivity, grit, and social benefits. The more demonstrable/provable your actions are under this category, the more that can be reaped from it. In most circumstances this would be terrible advice, but in this specific context, I think everyone should make pacts with the fae.

Discussion: Do you have a commitment category that pattern matches to “pact with the fae”? How have you used this category in the past? Have you ever had to demonstrate or prove this category to gain a social benefit or build trust? If you lack this category, do you think it contains enough benefit to be worth installing?

On Narrative Decoherence

(Epistemic Status: Problem without a clear solution, semi-endorsed, transitional step in character development maybe)

It’s a wonderful feeling, seeing the narrative underpinnings of the universe. Understanding the roles people adopt in relation to you, seeing what roles they expect you to have, and how you can accept, reject, or change those roles. With new people, you know how to activate archetypes in their brain and really manage impressions. Reality itself bends a little as you more strongly wield your narrative.

And then it seems to go away.

Something breaks, maybe your story has an unexpected twist, maybe you run into someone with a stronger narrative, maybe your archetype has tradeoffs you don’t like. Suddenly, the flow leaves you and there’s a sense of relief and loss. On the one hand, you no longer have to think about being a role, a labelled entity, a Thing. You can just be again, rather than always running a mask. But…reality is dull again, a thing you react to instead of acting on. You lose a certain spark and you’re running decision making through a war of subagents rather than an archetype. Things feel lacking because they don’t resonate as much. This lack, this sense of loss, is what I term narrative decoherence. It’s the feeling that you aren’t living in a story anymore – you’re an NPC again. You’re not as easily labelled and you don’t make as strong an impression, and you have more passive flexibility. You also don’t have as much slack for transgression, though. The barriers that were torn down by playing an archetype are back with a vengeance. Being narratively decoherent is less energy-intensive, but it makes reaching goals much more difficult.

I don’t think narrative decoherence is necessarily bad – I think it’s a transition period between narratives if an archetype is getting too costly. You eventually rebuild and regain your spark with different aesthetics. The narrative decoherence period can feel pretty bad though if if happens in the middle of a project relying on narrativemancy. Even with that, I admit going from the benefits of archetypes to less coherent thought patterns feels like a step backwards.

I don’t know how to solve narrative decoherence but I suspect if it can be avoided it requires conscious value, preference, and boundary setting as well as exploration. Taking archetype power without knowing what you value most can cause decoherence as you run face first into consequences you weren’t fully willing to accept. Setting limits on how you are labelled is much more accessible in the decoherent state. This is why I suspect narrative decoherence is a transition state. When you first figure out narrative, it’s addicting and difficult to remember what was important to you before – the archetype takes over so thoroughly that it is driving you. Periods of narrative decoherence are lash back if you violate values too much while playing.

Overall, narrative coherence and narrative decoherence feel like parts of a natural cycle for a beginner narrativemancer. I suspect as one learns the ropes, it happens less and new challenges appear instead – that said, it’s also entirely plausible this cycle never stops and what you learn as you improve is how to save narrative decoherence for the end of a chapter.

 

Discussion – How do you feel when narratively coherent? How about when narratively decoherent? If you’ve already grown further in narrativemancy, what happens to this pattern?