Once a lifetime, twice a week
April 19, 2020
First time here? I hand-deliver (okay, well, I press send all by myself) little updates whenever I’ve gathered enough mini-musings to warrant a post like this. Join the fun if you’d like!
A cursory glance will reveal that it has in fact been six months since I last wrote anything this publicly. Honestly, I’m glad. I don’t need to spend any longer detailing just how much as gone on in the past half year, but twenty-six weeks can birth an eternity that goes by in a single blink—and I’m told it only accelerates. At the beginning of February, I was fortunate enough to get to learn how to snowboard in Japan. Finally getting to go to Japan after learning so much about it while studying in high school was the epitome of a dream come true. At the end of February, I left my team at Possible Finance. This was, in earnest, one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, and also one that has surfaced a gratitude for which I cannot possibly begin to articulate. Since the last time I wrote, our team more than doubled in size, and much like someone might reveal a scratch-off lottery ticket square, the momentum from what was once a tiny startup began to reveal deficiencies in my own personal conviction for what I wanted to do with my limited time on Earth (yes, I am absolutely that dramatic about it).
Having been branded early in life as a girl with a plan, I find I’m learning to speak through the—what is it, shame? guilt?—of not having a conventional plan right now. It certainly has its ups and downs, and the lockdown/quarantine measures have had a compounding effect. While I was always going to use the next few months to explore a lot of things that I hadn’t previously prioritized, with all trips in the foreseeable future cancelled, I find myself with not only a lot more time for those things, but a lot more time with me, myself, and I. There are plenty of memes that capture the hilarity and idiosyncrasy of being alone with your own brain for hours on end, so I don’t feel the need to expand on this subject for now; I’ll spare you my almost-certainly unoriginal thoughts on the matter.
Version notes: This is a new website design! Still built by hand using a Gatsby starter, I learned how to implement Sass and other, new things in React to give it a dark and light mode. And do I even need to say it? Feedback is always enthusiastically welcomed.
Déjà vu anew
I’m ostensibly surprised by how incredibly quickly life can change; at a depth to which I’m unable to articulate, I find an overwhelming majority of things to be increasingly familiar. Back in Q2 of last year, I spent a moment recognizing the feeling of just how quotidian the “big moments” in life can feel when they happen. The past six months were no exception, and this phenomenon inspired the title of this post. The perpetual occurrence of things that are a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience not only erodes the categorization of “once-in-a-lifetime,” as it should, but introduces a feeling of uncertainty when it comes to how I’ve decided to calibrate these things that are being labelled “once-in-a-lifetime.” Don’t get me wrong—I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the compounding effects of being relatively young, working at a quickly-growing tech company, and having a penchant for finding new challenges certainly impact this frequency. Leaving my first job out of school and quite literally being placed in a city-wide lockdown the next week due to a pandemic was also definitely a factor. Regardless, there are a lot of these moments lately, and they’ve each provided me with an opportunity to observe and reflect on my perception, perspective, emotions, and outlook.
Take the recent jobless claims reports, for example: In the first week that was hugely impacted by Coronavirus/COVID-19, the US saw 3.3 million new jobless claims. It was astounding. Seven days later, 6.8 million new jobless claims were reported. Astounding again. The following week didn’t have the headline-grabbing, single-week-record-breaking numbers, but still 6.6 million new jobless claims were filed, and the pivot from weekly numbers to cumulative jobless claims allowed this to be astounding all over again. (One of my favorite things about cumulative counts: they pretty reliably just grow over time, lol. They are cumulative, after all.) And thus, much like the human body experiences exhaustion by repetitive exposure to elevated cortisol levels, the expectation of emotional response to things that are “unprecedented” or, on a more personal scale, something as simple as a “first” in life, is, without a shadow of a doubt, exhausting. I’m also driven by this ever-evolving sense that generally speaking, these types of things don’t really go away, though. Not only does everyone continue to experience firsts of their own to some degree, but the average human lifespan as a slice of history (or okay, the past few centuries at the very least) is certain to feature incredible historical events. If anything, this reiterates human resilience, and reminds us that most things are in fact temporary. It also sort of gives way to my belief in this feeling that humans will not be able to overcome the repetitive nature of our history until we’re able to abstract learnings from the past into something that mimics the intensity of a personal experience.
It’s never been more apparent to me that there is a collective illusion of normalcy that much of society shares, and its extinction has resulted in things and feelings that reside across the entire spectrum of words that I know. I’m equally grateful for my ability to weather the pandemic in stride as I am fascinated by observing the behaviors born out of chaos. Striking is the habitual nature of humans: it truly is remarkable just how much emotional comfort comes from the reduction of cognitive load via habits and routines. I do think that to some degree, I’ve always held comfort in my ability/desire to have the ability to detach from different aspects of familiarity in life. (Interestingly enough, this trait also seems to be more common in adults who were adopted, based on research that I’ve been entertaining recently.) I’ve touched briefly on this before when I’ve referenced Derek Sivers’ “How to thrive in an unknowable future” and my ongoing flirtation with stoicism-gone-nihilistic, if you will. So much power can be found in rejecting the notion of a “life track” as dictated by popular societal patterns, but individual forging is inherently personally demanding and somewhat lonely. With only a brief note this time, I’d like to emphasize the similar power and loneliness of being the only person to the best of our current knowledge who has survived and lived your experience in life; there’s little else I find that leads to conclusions that are so dramatically paradoxical in nature.
Anyway, I digress. Basically, watching everyone with some amount of financial stability be bored at home baking sourdough and planting vegetables (guilty as charged) and seeing people flock to social media to watch the “how to be productive in a pandemic” types debate the “how to not worry about being productive in a pandemic” types has driven me deeper into the security of expecting nothing to be consistent. The only constant is change. No, it’s not that dramatic, it’s not like I think we’ll end up in a Mad Max world tomorrow, but my point is that we’ve built all these layers of abstraction for humanity and much like the dot-com bubble burst (and as most bubbles have a tendency to) there’s seemingly little point in pigeonholing oneself so strictly such that the second a routine as mundane as leaving your domicile is interrupted that everything else must follow suit and descend into this nominal anarchy. I’ve made my best attempt to refrain from adding much commentary in an already-noisy, pandemic-obsessed internet, so I’ll leave that as it is for now.
The value of a human life
Recently, I’ve also been fascinated by the concept of figuring out what a human life is worth. Given the current demands of decisionmaking at the global level, it’s an especially relevant line of inquiry these days. About a week ago, I watched two movies in the same day that happened to have incredibly similar themes about societal class structures: Spanish film The Platform (2019, available on Netflix) and South Korean film Parasite (also 2019, available on Hulu). While The Platform explores the consequences of experiencing dramatic class stratification through the randomization of one’s status, Parasite is much quicker to comment on the immobility plaguing the vastly divided top and bottom. It occurred to me that so many examinations of socioeconomic inequities and inequalities are simply asking whether or not human lives are created equal. In favor of equality, does everyone deserve the same opportunities? In favor of equity, does everyone deserve the same outcome? I certainly struggle to find the right words to describe any unsteady convictions that I hold. I’m drawn to re-examine the foundational assumptions upon which I draw my conclusions from and actually form contentions that I like the sound of (at least at the time). Put another way, how do I know that what I think isn’t solely a function of my upbringing and privilege? A particularly salient example of this from The Platform is how when the characters are the equivalent of upper-middle class, they are optimistic that their peers will be willing to work together to overcome the synthetic class divide, but when their status evaporates, so does the aforementioned optimism. These concepts deal with the relative value of human lives in fairly abstract terms and almost exclusively comparatively, though their themes lingered when I pivoted toward a more economically-minded breakdown.
One question that many of us are asking is about when we will be able to “re-open” the country. In the Planet Money episode from April 15, “Lives vs. The Economy”, economists dive into the value of a statistical life, or exactly how many dollars a life is worth in order to figure out how much to spend on saving that life. Discussing both the various factors that are a part of this calculation as well as specific events that have resulted in changes to how we think about this in practice, this episode sparked questions about a different type of abstract valuation of a human life. (And also answered why the answer to re-opening the country right now is a pretty resounding no.) Another question that’s immediately asked by this type of analysis is whether or not the value of a single human life can or should ever supersede the continued survival of the species as a whole. Though fascinating and stimulating given many contexts, this particular flavor of utilitarianism is oft labelled inhumane and thus ostracized. I do find it frustrating that I also run into a lot of opinions in this space that teeter on logical fallacies and inconsistencies in reasoning. I would be much more sanguine about our ability to evaluate these things if we humans weren’t so emotional, I suppose—but as always, there are pros and cons to this. (And now there, almost two whole paragraphs where I didn’t really say much of substance, but instead simply allowed myself to air a lot of the back-and-forths that are taking up space in my brain.)
- Playing Animal Crossing: New Horizons and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch
- Learning “Clair de lune”, the third movement of Suite bergamasque by Claude Debussy on piano
- Reading (well, listening to) Educated by Tara Westover.
- Drinking Pure La Croix and Throat Coat tea
- Eating homemade whole wheat pasta—and having fun getting better at using the pasta extrusion KitchenAid attachments
- Baking raisin walnut sourdough (special thanks to my sourdough starter, Millie)
- “Endeavor” by Tandem Wallace
- “Group Therapy” by Elohim
- “Sad Forever” by Lauv
- “Stay” by Gracie Abrams
- “I Do” by Astrid S. and Brett Young
- “don’t forget to breathe today” by San Holo
- The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
- Becoming by Michelle Obama
- The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
- The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- Tiger King because, well, of course
- The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst which led to Don’t F**ck with Cats and Making a Murderer
- Better Call Saul which led to Ozark
On the horizon
I’ve been experimenting with a lot of art on my art Instagram, @marawearsstripes, and have been messing around with some music-related things a bit. I’m doing as much figuring out as anyone else, but I’m also playing the “there’s nothing to permanently figure out” game a bit more than I used to. Gratitude rules my internal parent’s responses to much of what my inner child has to say lately. I’m trying to learn more about data science, and will hopefully find something that interests me enough to do something similar to what The Pudding does; I’ve been following their work for quite some time now, and am always simultaneously delighted by the output and curious about the process by which it came to be. My working framework for generic evaluations, frequency-saliency-scale (more on that later), has provided a starting point for talking about happiness that can best be quickly described as how quickly and in which direction one’s contentment changes. Other than that, if you’re up to anything you’re excited about, I’d love to hear about it!