Posted Wednesday, April 19 2023 - Hey ho! Posting this report quite late due to unexpected travel, family, and tax obligations. The extra time, however, has helped me come to the conclusion that my Groundhog Day Resolutions (GHDR) Goals are failing early. While I think the design of these goals was fine, I haven't met the prerequisite conditions to make them truly viable. I also had some sobering insights from attending my Uncle Tony's recent memorial service in St. Louis; I recognized parallels between his life and mine as we both have similar ADHD traits but have very different supporting environments. I'm going to get into those thoughts below!
A LIFE IN REVIEW
When I was around 6 years old, Uncle Tony came to New Jersey to stay with us. Mom was helping him study to get into a university to continue his studies. I liked Uncle Tony because he actually listened to what we had to say even as kids, asking questions and showing genuine interest. I remember visiting his house a few years later, and he gave me the manual to his expensive programmable Texas Instruments calculator, which was my first computing experience. I managed to program it to print rude messages for my sister, and I was hooked. Much later, Uncle Tony would sometimes send all the cousins emails about projects he was working on in information technology. His ideas centered around organizing information and empowering communities, which were subjects I found interesting but noticed that he didn't followup on them or any of my questions. I assumed that he didn't find what I had to say interesting, and so I drifted away from him. I hadn't had much contact with him since.
Uncle Tony's memorial service was well attended by his church community. The bulk of the service was conducted in Taiwanese and Mandarin (which I don't understand at all), but the printed program had English translations of the stories that his colleagues and siblings had submitted. Much of this was new to me; a common theme was that Uncle Tony had difficulty with studying other than music as a child, and had bounced around between adventures as a young man that had left his brothers in awe. As the service went on, I got the sense that his curiousity, generosity, and open-heartedness was accompanied by an analytical ability where he could see connections between things that others didn't see or found important. He never achieved the kind of success that most Taiwanese of his generation would celebrate, but he touched a lot of hearts in his decades of participating in church and community life. He was generous with his time, and found ways to apply his formal education in social work along side his passion for all musical subjects.
After the service, I helped look for records relating to our family history by sorting through his home office and basement storage. He had an astonishing array of recording devices from every generation of technology, all meticulously labeled with his name. I saw that he had spent a lot of time augmenting his memory around audio and video capture, with hundreds of tapes and optical media filed in boxes around the house. Being very familiar with this kind of compulsion, I imagined the mind behind the organization, noting where particular objects were more accessible and which had been saved "just in case they would be useful". I actually found his Ph.D. dissertation research (never completed). His youngest brother wasn't interested in it I got to take it home. I haven't read through it yet, but one line did catch my eye: he noted that he had "poor memory" and was experimenting with the use of recorders to augment field interviews way back in the early 1970s. Throughout his life others thought of him as a bright, helpful, and optimistic man who, for some reason unfathomable to the people around him, was never able to do what it took to pull off his grand ambitions. There was one achievement I hadn't heard of, though, that stood: the St Louis Taiwanese Youth Chamber Orchestestra (STYCO), started by him and two other collaborators back in 1990. During the memorial service, one of his collaborators from that time shared his excitement about that time and played a portion of a STYCO performance I found a copy of their first recital on YouTube, on one of Uncle Tony's many YouTube channels, transferred from ancient videotape., with Uncle Tony conducting. I was surprised at how good it was, having expected a wheezy high school-level performance in a drafty gymnasium. Instead, it was a full dress orchestra on a stage in a music hall, and they sounded really good. Mentioning this over dinner, one of my aunts described how Uncle Tony and his two collaborators together were able to complement each other's crazy intensity to produce something that individually would not have been possible.
A LIFE IN COMPARISON
On the flight home, I was struck by the parallels between his life and mine. First, I had the sobering thought that when I died there would be no such service for me. For all of Uncle Tony's difficulties with organization and executive function, he lived his life by actively applying his open heart to the community situations where he thought he could make a difference. He had lived this way from the time he was a young adult to the end of his days, passing away six months after his wife had also died. With the support of local friends and family in an active community, he was able to thrive.
By comparison, I have tended to isolate myself from community. I have the same kind of ambitions that Uncle Tony did, and a lot of the same challenges with executive function. Moving as a 9-yo kid from the States to Taiwan created an enormous disconnect between me and society in general, as I spent 10 formative years surrounded by a culture that I did not understand. I could not speak, read, or write the local languages. In hindsight I can see also how I had many traits that could be described by ADHD and Aspergers Syndrome, which were masked by the 20 years of culture shock I experienced until my late 20s, bouncing to Taiwan for 10 years and then back to the States where I was lacked 10 years of shared context with other people. Since then I have created a comfortable sanctuary for myself that fits the needs that I have, but I lack the day-to-day connection with people with the ambition to do something cool with me. I crave some kind of community that fits within this narrow bubble of comfort. I've described this community before as a tribe of people who are positive-minded, self-empowered, conscientious, curious, generous, and kind.
In terms of tribe, there is a similarity between Uncle Tony's youth orchestra collaboration with my high school computer lab experience back in the 80s. There was me and two other kids that were equally determined to learn how computers worked, pushing ourselves to learn programming and electronics without much guidance beyond our own stubborness. We complemented each other's interests, and freely gave our knowledge away to anyone who asked. This is the experience that set me on my path in technology, and I have never been able to replicate it. Maybe the simplicity of being a high school kid, with zero adult responsibilities, is part of the magic formula. However, Uncle Tony was blessed with the opportunity to create something just as magical as an adult...it must still be possible if I keep looking. I can't give up now.
GROUNDHOG DAY 2023 GOALS IN COMPARISON
Anyway, back to Groundhog Day Resolutions, which I have described as failing again...if I apply the strict metric of counting what is finished. Uncle Tony's life, however, reminds me that a strong community support system goes a long way toward creating a meaningful life. I had earlier emphasized community building as one of this year's strategic horizons, as I saw it as a necessary mitigation for my executive function shortcomings such as the need for external motivations and meaning to do anything at all. This is pretty common with people that have ADHD traits like mine, and so focusing on those practical aspects of community makes a lot of sense. However, there is the connectedness and intermingling of life passions with like-minded people that share some aspect of your mission. For Uncle Tony, he was able to find a place and supporting network of people where he could thrive in such a way. I have been too timid in even trying to be part of such a thing, let along try to build one by myself.
So what are the preconditions to building community that I'm missing? I'm considering five possibilities:
1. A LACK OF PASSION?
I can not say that I have a consuming, driving passion in the way my Uncle Tony did with music. I think that was his first love, the subject that he never tired of. I think I'm more driven by compulsion instead; I had described this on Mastodon as being a "irritation-driven designer" more than a "passionate creator". I strive to deeply understand and share what I've learned in a concise and accurate way, otherwise the information is just inaccessible to me. This is perhaps the closest thing that I have as a mission, which is to explain the world competently to save people from confusion. This is also a necessary mitigation for me to learn because of the way I have to make models of the world so I can "simulate" them in my head.
I'm not sure what my passion is, though. Mission without passion is not motivating enough. There is the idea that getting really good at something is better advice than "following your passion", which I think is true for achieving mainstream success; my mantra of concrete deliverables and having them be visible and seen is a version of that. As someone with ADHD- and Autism-adjacent traits, though, this is not a viable path to success without the kind of external support that I didn't realize was absolutely mandatory until this very moment.
What passion do I have, and with who can I share it such that it makes a difference?
2. FAILING TO EXECUTE?
I thought I was doing an OK job of pursuing my goals by scaling down my expectations to something more achievable. However, I spend a lot of time identifying and taming demons as I encounter them. This past year's demon-taming is all about ADHD and ASD/ASPERGERS trait mitigation, but it occurs to me that maybe this is another form of busywork where it feels like I'm being productive but I am really avoiding the boring necessities that go into getting anything done. If there is a passion I have, it is finding the root truths of a situation or matter, the secret keys and astral lines that I imagine unlock the secrets of the universe.
But maybe I'm just deluding myself. In terms of accomplishment, I've gotten very little done over a lifetime of grand ambition. It is weighing heavily on me that the majority of my life is now behind me. The number of years ahead of me are much fewer now...can I pull myself out of this before it's too late?
What lasting impact can I have that is within my capacity to execute?
3. A CONFLICT OF AUTISTIC AND ADHD NEEDS?
I am more impacted by asperger syndromeI was formerly avoiding this term in favor of ASD or Autistic Spectrum Disorder, but this term is more specifically associated with punlished writing about my particular combination of traits. I have also read some debunkings of the reason why the term is associated with Nazi experimentation. Another term that I'm considering is AuHD for people with autistic and ADHD traits; I've seen this used on YouTube, and the comorbidity is not uncommon. I'm using the generic version "asperger syndrome" as a label rather than "Asperger's" or "Aspergers". traits than I thought. I've been reading the book ADHD and Asperger Syndrome in Smart Kids and Adults by clinical psychologist Thomas E. Brown. This is a collection of clinical case notes for 12 individuals, and I can see myself in every one of them. The social anxiety that I constantly am having to suppress, for example. Also the flares of anger I feel when things aren't "right", and my early adulthood arrogance about such things.
The limit in this case isn't cognitive ability, but the extra effort it takes for me to relate to other people. This could be a real problem when trying to build a community or be helpful in a meaningful way. It doesn't help that I seem to prefer isolation much of the time, and find dealing with other people's imprecise expectations exhausting. Uncle Tony, to my knowledge, didn't seem to have this handicap. I want community to mitigate ADHD, but community also drains me of energy if it's not a good fit.
Does my tendency toward isolation, rightness, and precision in communication severely constrain me in my community-seeking activity?
4. FEAR OF PEOPLE?
Unlike Uncle Tony, I don't have a lot of people nearby that I can physically be present with. I was reminded what this was like when my sister visited me for a week recently. It was nice! Time seemed to have more meaning than it does now, working as I am by myself at my dining room table. I have few collaborators on project work. I have no family nearby. While I have amazing friends, they are not within daily face-to-face distance. Just doing things together is nice.
The obvious solution is to MEET MORE PEOPLE and MAKE MORE FRIENDS. However, I also have pretty severe social anxiety that requires a great deal calming self-talk to navigate society. It doesn't help being a visible minority in one of the whitest states in the US (97%) and being non-binary transgender. Some of this can be explained by ASD/ASPERGER traits that I mention above---I get along much better with people who are as compulsively excited about their interests as I am. We can speak directly and accept direct response in return in happy information dumps. It feels much different when engaging in "polite society", with its prolific masking of emotion and feelings in conversation which are still obvious, and it is exhausting. I have screwed-up these rituals from early childhood, and the compounded negative experiences now make negative looping thoughts automatic. I can function fairly normally in society, but I have to spend a lot of time "self-calming" and pointing out that people don't actually find me tedious, weird, and unrelatable. There's a good chance that I can just see what happens and improvise on-the-fly as I develop a psychological profile of the people I'm talking to. But it'ss super draining.
As much as I've tried to purge this anxiety from my system, it's so deeply conditioned that it's likely to be part of me forever. If I want to be part of a community, I have to continue to push against the fear.
How can I build stamina for maintaining polite sociability so I am not isolated? And is it worth it? It feels like a compromise.
5. WEAKNESS OF CHARACTER?
There's a WIRED article I Saw the Face of God in a Semiconductor Factory by Virginia Heffernan---one of my favorite writers, incidentally---about her pilgrimmage to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing CompanyBetter known as TSMC, the Taiwanese company that makes over 90% of the world's advanced chips. to see the fabrication facilities where chips are born. NO ONE, especially journalists, gets to see the fabs, but Heffernan seems to vibe with the powers that run the company. One fascinating tidbit from the article is TSMC's hiring philosophy for scientists: they need both curiosity and stamina. This quote in particular devastated me:
Stamina [...] allows the TSMC scientists to push this game of atoms forward without flagging, without losing patience, through trial and error after error. How one stays interested, curious, consumed with an unrelaxed and breathless craving to know: This emerges as one of the central mysteries of the nano-engineering mind. Weaker minds shatter at the first touch of boredom. [...]
MINDS THAT SHATTER AT THE FIRST TOUCH OF BOREDOM. OMG. I like to flippantly describe my life's goal as not being bored. While I am half-joking, I do think that boredom is something I cope with by pursuing more immediately-rewarding tasks that meet the "curiosity" criteria. I rationalize this as structured procrastination and tell myself that I'm learning stuff that will come in handy...later. It doesn't help me get things done with any degree of predictability, but it is what I can muster when I am working in isolation as I am now.
I don't want to have a mind that shatters at the first touch of boredom. I find this sentiment highly motivating and easy to remember. How can I build on that?
Firstly, I do have tremendous stamina in certain situations: I have hyperfocus when I am figuring out a solution for someone else. I have an unusual compulsion for absorbing and reorganizing data. I relentlessly document what I learn, always seeking ways to improve clarity and uncover principles of superlative experience. Secondly, I love sharing all this stuff to anyone who might find it useful or interesting.
I don't want my mind to shatter at the first touch of boredom! Can I recalibrate my approach to work so my natural stamina helps me push through to completion?
AMENDING GROUNDHOG DAY RESOLUTIONS
To recap the possibilities I discussed above:
- A Lack of passion?
- Failing to execute?
- A conflict of autistic and ADHD needs?
- Fear of people?
- Weakness of character?
How well do these possibilities relate to my current high-level GHDR strategic horizons?
Create The Colony - building a supportive culture for people practicing the values of positive-minded, self-empowered, etc approach to life for shared success.
Reach for Software Ascendancy - developing useful software that other people can benefit from, which opens a path to recurring income and demonstrable skill to land freelance projects.
Reach for Writing Ascendancy - becoming a more polished and engaging writer, posting regularly to share ideas and attract people to The Colony and/or possible collaboration.
My hot take is that I am recognizing the need for community and connection to provide the necessary energy to complete tasks. There are two issues with that:
The mental framing of "completing tasks" is the wrong way to approach work, as completion happens so rarely. I've noted this before in other writing, but I keep forgetting to practice it because I'm so impatient about my actual progress compared to how fast I wish things would happen. I should be confident that the work requires a lot of process development even for tasks that I think I should know how to do.
I can't create The Colony by myself without investing in the time to reach out and make connections with people. Without The Colony, I am stuck in the same morass I've been stuck in for the past 15 years.
The underlying financial mission is still the same. It goes something like this:
- Get good at something and promote it
- Stay focused on the goal of getting good and keep pursuing it
- Build each goal into a valuen-generating machine, practice, business that sustains itself and me
I think I need to focus much more on community and connection this month. I'm not sure how to do it, but it might be as simple as using some socializing recipes to attract people who appreciate my areas of stamina:
- I'm good at listening to people's words and distilling system concepts that can bring clarity.
- I'm comfortable juggling conceptual models and synthesizing my own map of understanding.
- I do like helping people make personal breakthroughs by contributing knowledge or tools.
- I am compelled to share what I've discovered so others can benefit from what I've learned.
So what course of action can I take? I don't have answers yet. I'm only just getting back on track after six weeks of distraction; maybe by May 5 I'll have some additional clarity to share.
WHAT GOT DONE
Much of March was spent preparing for the flight to St. Louis, booking hotel and rental car, and psyching myself to get on an airplane with a bunch of unmasked people. Long story short: IT WAS FINE. I had a good time.
After that, I had a week-long coworking camp with my sister, establishing a daily schedule that we could follow without burning ourselves out. This came in handy the following week when I had to do my business taxes for the first time in a while without an accountant. I did a little bit each morning, and got the thing filed on Friday well before the deadline.
Workwise, I did make several improvements to
dsriseah.com but that's about it
- Typography improvements
- RSS improvements to filter out draft articles
- Improved article 'staging' to work with RSS
- Prototype "printable card lists" like this one
For fun I also reviewed egg rolls from two more restaurants, cleaned up the house for the coworking camp, and
I don't know. I know vaguely what I want and what I need to improve if I don't want to die alone and forgotten without having left any lasting benefit to the people around me. But how to get there? I think I have to steel myself to push past my social anxiety to see if there is something better on the other side, over and over again, until I find something promising. I can try to socialize despite discomfort and doubt with meeting new people. I can perhaps create sanctuaries where people can join in, and try to juggle them all? I feel like I'll have to FAIL MUCH MORE at this before I see a meaningful change in my outlook.