Sunday Selection 2021-05-30

It’s been a couple of weeks since I started writing Daily Digest posts. I don’t write them everyday, so Daily Digest might have been a misnomer, but it does feel good to reflect on the day and get thoughts out of my head. It also helps me remember little details about the day I would otherwise forget. One of the other hand, I also write about things I’ve been reading and watching in the Digests, which leaves me with less to write about on Sunday. I’ll have to work on finding a balance between the two over the next few weeks. With all that being said, here’s a somewhat lighter Sunday Selection.

Blog About What You Struggled With

While we’re on the topic of writing more, Julia Evans makes an interesting point: write about the things you’ve struggled with. It’s a good way to both cement your knowledge and maintain a record for the future, not to mention, create something that will be useful to others.

How to Become a Better Writer by Becoming a Better Noticer

Talking about blogging, getting better at writing is something I’ve been interested in for a long time. I took a number of creative writing classes in college, and I remember a number of assignments that focused on observing the world, rather than directly writing about it. So here’s an article about getting better at writing by getting better at noticer. It’s full of both examples and exercises, and will definitely go into my writing toolbox.

Kumail Nanjiani Can Be Your Hero, Baby

The first teaser trailer for the upcoming Eternals movie from Marvel dropped a couple of days, which reminded me of this article that I saved a couple of months ago and never got around to reading. So I remedied it, got a peek into Nanjiani’s life, and the kind of mental and physical training that it takes to have the body of a superhero. As someone who’s put on a rather embarrassing amount of weight over the last year, I’ll put this in the “inspiration” category.

And on the topic of the Eternals trailer, here it is:



And finally an actual book:

Philosopher of the Heart by Claire Carlisle

For the first time in a while, I’m reading a number of different books at once. Of those, this one strikes a good balance of being entertaining, informative, and easy to digest. The author takes us on a (non-chronological!) tour of Kierkegaard’s life, and in the process gives us a thorough understanding of his philosophy and the cultural context in which his ideas came about. It’s also a surprisingly quick read, and I’m going through almost a chapter day. Highly recommend if you have an interest in European philosophy.

Daily Digest 2021-05-24

It was a Monday, which means that after an unexpectedly stressful weekend (more on that at a later date), it’s time to get ready for the week. It’s also two weeks until I get the keys to my new apartment. I am looking forward to moving and am also very over my current living situation, so I’m afraid I’ll be increasingly insufferable until I move.


I learned about the author and professor, Robert D. Richardson (via Austin Kleon) who not only wrote biographies of Thoreau, Emerson, and William James, but also impressed Annie Dillard enough to marry her after “two lunches and three handshakes”. That makes for a whole new set of #relationshipgoals, as the kids say these days. I let myself fall into a bit of an Annie Dillard rabbit hole, following the links from Kleon’s post. I read this very interesting New York Times interview done shortly after her book A Pilgrim’s Progress was published, as well as this interview of Richardson, where he talks (among other things) about the effect she has had on his writing.


Now that I’m fully vaccinated, I’ve been using the Boston Athenaeum as a workspace a couple of times a week. As Cal Newport says in his latest essay in the New Yorker, remote work doesn’t necessarily mean working from home, maybe just close to home. A welcome side effect of that is a little more in-person human interaction, including random conversations with strangers in the elevator. It is still a little bit strange with masks on, but hopefully that will only be a part of our shared reality for a short while longer (at least here in Massachusetts).


Talia Ringer tweeted about how she feels more conscious each year, feeling more present and more aware of her thoughts and surroundings. I’ve been having a similar experience, especially in the last couple of years as I invest more time and energy into meditation and therapy. Part of this is due to a deeper feeling of agency over things that I thought were out of my control, like my emotions, motivations and priorities. Some of it is also due to realizing that there’s more to life than following a pre-determined plan. At the same time, it’s unfortunately very easy for me to not be present, to exist with my brain wrapped in a sort of distracted fog, with my mind lost in the past or present or fictional, fantastic worlds.


Talking of fantastic worlds, I realized that binge watching random TV shows as a way to relieve stress was not doing me any favors. It was starting to feel like an addiction, and made being present even more difficult. But I still enjoy movies and television and don’t want to cut them out of my life entirely. Instead, I want to watch higher quality productions, starting with Season 4 of The Expanse. It’s definitely one of the better science fiction shows of the last few years, filled with interesting concepts and plotlines, good actors, lots of careful worldbuilding and high production quality. I watched the first episode, which was very entertaining, and did a whole lot of setup for the rest of the season. I’m hoping to gradually work my way through it, one episode a day, over the next few weeks.

As an aside, as much as I like how much high quality television there is these days, I am not thrilled at how seasons seem to have very few episodes these days (sometimes in the single digits).

Sunday Selection 2021-02-28

Ursula K LeGuin on the Legacy of the Tao Te Ching

Ursula K LeGuin is probably one of the foremost intellects of the 20th century (which makes me more than a little ashamed that I haven’t read much of her work). I’ve been reading more about Zen Buddhism, and it’s close cousin Taoism over the last few years, so I’m looking forward to reading this in the near future. This is really more of an interpretation than a translation, but as the excerpts show, it seems to capture the spirit of the original (along with some choice commentary for the modern age).

David Lynch’s Industrious Pandemic

Talking of cultural icons, I did not know much about David Lynch until this piece. I think the only work of his I’ve seen is the 1984 Dune, which this piece calls “pretty unwatchable”. I was drawn to this piece because of the subtitle which talks about Lynch “living a farmer’s life during the pandemic” by keeping himself “engaged with self-prescribed daily routines”. That’s certainly been a luxury that’s out of reach of most of us, but as I noted in my reflections on 2020, it’s not enough to simply exist. We have to live as well, even in tough times, and we must make use of our privileges and luxuries where we have them.

Love Sick: It’s time to Uncouple Care Work from Romantic Love

Talking of pandemics, the past year has certainly shaped a lot of conversations and thoughts about family, community and caring. As someone who’s often depended on friends and acquaintances for help in ways both big and small, this year has made me even more aware of the value of self-sufficiency. At the same time, I do believe that humans aren’t meant to be alone, and we should all work harder to develop bonds of family and community, but it’s much easier said than done, and no, I haven’t figure out how to do it for myself yet.

Sunday Selection 2021-01-03

I’ll be honest, it feels a little strange to write the first of a Selection post for the first time in a new year. I’m tempted to summarize everything that’s been notable from 2020, even though it seems like I barely remember large parts of it, let alone what I read. Moreover people more eloquent than I have summarized what this hell of a year has been like. With all that in mind, here are some things I came across recently that I think will be of interest to you, dear reader.

When This is Over: A 2020 New Year

I’ve read a number of 2020 summaries, and this is by far the one that best captures what I think most of us are feeling for the year we left behind. It summarizes all the tiredness and heartbreak that we’ve been through, the hopes and dreams we have for the new year, and also the nagging doubt at the back of our minds that things won’t magically get better.

As an aside, I started supporting some writers and creators on Patreon last year, and I intend to continue to do so this year. I understand that 2020 has been a very bad year financially for many people, but if you can spare a few dollars a month to support independent creators, please do so. Talking of independent writers, that leads me to…

Is Substack the Media Future We Want?

Newsletters have definitely taken off in 2020. It seems to give writers the independence that blogs once did, while solving the crucial problem of how to get people to pay for interesting writers. I’m subscribed to about half a dozen such newsletters, or varying regularity, and pay for a couple. Of course, as this article tells us, not everything is rainbows and sunshine. A lack of moderation is always a double-edged sword, and even though Substack (and kin) make paying writers easier, it’s hard to say if that will be enough to support the writers losing their livelihoods due to the continuing slow death of journalism. And yes, I’ve thought about offering this blog (or at least a part of it) via newsletter as well.

Just to Be Alive Is Enough

2020 has definitely been a year where if you got to the end of it in one piece, you deserve a pat on the back (even though you may have to give yourself the pat for now). As a recovering Type-A person, it’s hard to accept that survival is enough. As a I noted in the last post, it doesn’t feel good just exist instead of living. However, we can flip that idea around and realize that just being alive gives us a lot to appreciate and enjoy. Something I’m glad I learned over the course of the last year is that we don’t need to wait for particular things to happen to be happy. We can open up to and accept all experiences, and embrace life just as it is.

The Mandalorian Season 2

Season 2 of The Mandalorian is now finished, and the housemates and I finished watching it on Christmas Eve. In many ways, the show feels like a Western set in the Star Wars universe (just as Rogue One was a heist movie set in the Star Wars universe). That doesn’t mean it’s bad though. It doesn’t exactly break narrative ground, but it is very well done, has a wide cast of interesting and relatable characters, and is very enjoyable.

Reflections on 2020

What a year, what a year! 2020 has been a shock to the system, all systems. It goes without saying at this point that it has a been a terrible, rotten, no-good year for most people. A lot of people didn’t make it to the end, and I think very few people made it to the end of the year unscathed. For me, this was going to be a year or traveling, continuing to explore New England and build my social circles in the area, go on dates and maybe find a relationship. None of that happened. Instead of spending a year being outgoing and social, it turned out to be year of turning inwards, and rebuilding my inner life.

To be honest, the last twelve months have been a bit of blur, and making myself sit down and reflect on the past year is making me wonder: what the hell just happened? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is kind of a lot. February 23, would be the last time I wrote outside the apartment: a Sunday Selection post from the excellent Andala Coffee House in Central Square, which I sincerely hope stays afloat. Barely three weeks later, in early March, I started writing a daily log about my social distancing adventures. March turned out to be the most prolific month ever on this blog, all the way back to when I started in 2006 (!!!). I managed to keep this series going until I realized that I was repeating the same day over and over. I suspect, the mind-numbing sameness of the last year has been a large part of why it’s been so taxing.

By the time we got around to April, the days had taken the shape they would retain for the rest of the year. A basic sameness to each day, at least an hour of Zoom calls most days, nowhere to go and nothing much to do. I had made some amount of peace with not being able to do all the things I had wanted this year. Luckily, Massachusetts managed to get the first wave of the virus fairly under control during the summer. Also by this time we had realized that outdoor, sufficiently spaced activities were relatively safe. Summer turned out to be a much-needed reprieve. There were long walks outside, and a good amount of distanced outdoor dining. For a couple of good weeks, I took the mostly empty subway downtown to the Boston Athenaeum, spending lunches sitting around the Boston Commons. It was good to get a break from spending most of the day, everyday, in the same room. This was around the same time that to maintain some semblance of a social life I started playing video games. This was the first time I’d really played since high school and the first time in my life that I played online with and against other people. I even invested in a fancy GPU so that I could do so with better-than-minimal graphics.

In August, my housemates and I moved from our swanky modern apartment to an older house in the suburbs. We have a much larger, somewhat cheaper space, with a backyard, good neighbors and lots of space for the cats. It’s not as nice as the apartment, but it’s definitely the better choice for what looks like almost another year that we’ll be stuck mostly at home. We each have our own workspace, a spare room for plants and exercising, and separate living room, dining room and kitchen. If we’re going to be home all the time, we at least have a number of different spaces to live and move around in.

By the Fall, a lot of the shock of initial pandemic-induced isolation had worn off. I managed to turn some psychological energy into making progress, rather than just existing. Professionally, the Fall has been a good time. I made some progress on my main research projects and joined in on two new projects. I also taught the undergraduate compilers class at Tufts University. It was my first time teaching a class on my own, and though I regret not being able to do it in a proper classroom, it was definitely an enlightening and enriching experience. All of this has been tiring and more than a little stressful, especially in the absence of traditional Fall Break. But on the other hand, it has been good to make progress in some ways, when so much else seems to be on pause.

I’m trying not to look back on this year with rose-tinted glasses. But I’m also recognizing that I’ve had it easier than most. I’ve been lucky to have stable employment that transitioned pretty seamlessly to remote work (I already had a good setup at home, so didn’t need to scramble to buy equipment). My housemates have been wonderful and taken on most of the outside-the-home tasks like grocery shopping. I was lucky to live somewhere that got the virus under control for most of the time we had good weather outside. My parents and most of my extended family have been safe and virus-free. The cats have been generally well-behaved and affectionate (a couple of puking incidents aside). And though I haven’t traveled at all, I have managed to eat quite a few new foods this year (and a lot of interesting cocktails).

All that being said, this has definitely been a year where I have simply existed, instead of lived. At the same time, all the various tribulations have made thrown my personal growth into overdrive. I have learned about what is important to me, what the needs, wants and nice-to-haves in my life are. I have also learned to do without a lot of the things I thought I needed. At the end of the year, I know myself better than when I started, and perhaps for the first time in my life have been able to just sit with my emotions and thoughts and let them be, rather than trying to avoid them or get carried away by them. I also reevaluated some of my relationships (and the lack thereof), my expectations surrounding them, and managed to let go of some things that I have been holding on to far too long. Hopefully this clears some headspace to allow in better things in the future. Of course, none of this would have been possible without a very good therapist and a meditation group that has been meeting remotely all year. As I said at the beginning of this post, I had to turn inwards, and ended up making a fair bit of progress (though not without a good amount of pain and discomfort along the way).

As I’m writing this, the COVID vaccines are rolling out, though slowly and wastefully (in the US at least). But it will probably be many months until I get the vaccine myself and the greater part of the year until we get back to some semblance of normalcy. I am hoping that lessons I’ve learned this year and the growth I’ve done makes it possible to actually live next year, rather than just exist. But that’s a topic for another post.