• For many years now, I’ve believed that my personal happiness is tied to the quality and quantity of my creative output.

    I’ve held this belief without being aware of it until recently. Nonetheless, it has had a profound negative effect on how I approach my work and hobbies.

    According to this belief, I can have anything I want in life—a loving partner, good mental health, a big group of supportive friends, a fulfilling job—if only I can consistently produce software, blog posts, fiction, or music at a high enough quality.

    Conversely, the reason I have bad dates, fall prey to anxiety, or lose touch with my friends is because I’m not doing enough good creative work.

    Yes, I know how farcical it sounds when written out like that, but so many of the harmful convictions we hold sound like that when they’re written down in plain English.

    I only discovered these feelings while trying to puzzle out why every hobby I have stresses me out instead of helping me relax. I’ve tied my self-worth to my creative output to such a degree that every flaw in my work feels like a flaw in myself. Taking a break from the work feels like I’m giving up on a glorious future that’s just within my reach.

    This is clearly a bad place to be, but how did I get here?

    I feel that my early success with programming has led to the association I’ve formed between work and personal happiness.

    I started taking software development seriously right around time the tech industry in India was starting to grow at a breakneck pace. My programming skills helped me find work that paid well, and the money I made helped me gain financial independence at an early age. Financial independence led to personal independence, which helped me build a life I had only dreamed of when I was younger.

    At some subconscious level, this early success made my brain form an association between work and personal happiness. The correlation was clear as day: being good at programming improved my personal life. But we all know what they say about correlations, right?

    I have to keep reminding myself that the reason my personal life improved was because I made a conscious effort to improve it, not because I got better at writing code. It wasn’t my code that made new friends, went on dates, exercised, ate healthier, went to therapy, and sought out new experiences. It was me. Even if I’d been a terrible programmer—or picked a different career path altogether—it’s possible that I would’ve ended up in a similar situation that I’m in today.

    Being good at my work definitely allowed me freedoms that I otherwise might not have had, but it wasn’t the only thing that helped me become the person I am today. More importantly, just because it happened once doesn’t mean it will happen again.

    If I keep thinking of creative work as my one and only path to personal happiness, I’ll end up taking all the joy out of my job and hobbies. Even worse, if I choose to only focus on my creative output at the expense of everything else, I’ll avoid doing the work that actually helps me grow as a person. Writing more blog posts won’t help me run a 5k; learning Haskell won’t help me go on more dates.

    It’s easy to write all of this out, but changing what I’ve believed for fifteen years will take a lot of effort. Confronting this subconscious belief was half the battle. Now that I know, I can begin to change how I approach my life and work.

  • Everybody is making lists of the default apps they use in 2023. Being an inveterate trend-hopper, why should I be left behind?

    • Email: Fastmail installed as PWA on macOS, default Fastmail app on iPhone
    • Notes: Obsidian + Obsidian Sync, Apple Notes for quickly capturing rough ideas
    • To-do: Things
    • Photo shooting: iOS Camera
    • Photo management: Apple Photos
    • Photo editing: Apple Photos
    • Calendar: Fastmail installed as PWA on macOS, default Fastmail app on iPhone
    • Cloud storage: iCloud Drive
    • RSS: Reeder + iCloud (currently trying Readwise Reader for 30 days)
    • Contact management: Apple Contacts
    • Browser: Safari for daily browsing, Firefox for the developer tools
    • Chat: Telegram, WhatsApp, Instagram (in order of usage)
    • Bookmarks: Raindrop.io
    • Read later: Reeder + iCloud (currently trying Readwise Reader for 30 days)
    • Spreadsheets: Microsoft Excel
    • Word processing: iA Writer, sometimes Microsoft Word
    • Presentations: Apple Keynote
    • Shopping list: Things
    • Budgeting and finance: Fold Money
    • News: Mastodon, other people
    • Music: Spotify
    • Podcast: Overcast
    • Password management: 1Password
    • Books: Kindle and Apple Books on iPad Pro
    • App launcher: Alfred
    • Code editor: Visual Studio Code
    • Terminal: iTerm
    • Git client: Git Tower

    If you want to see more, Robb Knight is collecting these lists on App Defaults.

  • Until recently, I hated reading short fiction. Every time I had a choice between reading a novel or a collection of short stories, I almost always picked the novel.

    If you’d asked me a few years ago, I would’ve rattled off a long list of problems I had with short stories: they refused to give me the sense of closure I looked for in my fiction, they were sometimes too experimental for my tastes, they didn’t give me time to fall in love with their characters and worlds, they omitted important context required to really understand what was going on. I could go on for days.

    However, earlier this year, I decided I wanted to learn to enjoy reading short fiction. I figured that the only reason I didn’t find it as much fun as reading novels was that I hadn’t been exposed to enough short stories that moved me. My frustrations were born out of an unfamiliarity with the form, which had a simple fix in my eyes: just read a lot of short stories.

    So I purchased recent issues of a few popular short fiction magazines from Weightless Books. I also bookmarked some of the freely available stories on the Internet and dusted off the anthologies I already had on my bookshelf.

    Slowly over the past year, I’ve worked my way through all these story collections. The experience has been a mixed bag — fun on some days, frustrating on others. But one weekend in October, I found myself looking forward to spending my entire day exclusively reading short fiction!

    It was gratifying to discover that my initial hunch was correct: to enjoy reading short fiction, I just had to expose myself to as much of it as possible. It was sort of like getting used to a new genre of music by listening to a lot of it for a few weeks.

    Besides mere exposure, there were two shifts in my approach to reading that helped me appreciate short stories. First, I learned to be okay with not getting a sense of closure from everything I read. And second, I let go of the expectation that I’d enjoy or even tolerate every story in a collection. They can’t all be zingers.

    I’m glad that I went through with this exercise. Reading short stories is a different kind of pleasure compared to novels, and I’m happy that I’m finally able to find joy in this form of storytelling as well.

    Here are some of the stories I enjoyed reading this year:

  • Here’s what happens every time I get excited about writing a blog post: I dump three thousand words into my text editor, whittle them down to a more reasonable amount, coerce them into a polished draft, format them for publication, and immediately realize that everything I’ve written is completely false. At this point, having found out that I’ve produced a thousand words of lies and fabrications, I have no choice but to throw all of it away.

    Then I get excited about a different idea and do it all over again.

    In the last six weeks—since the day I published my final weeknote—I’ve finished writing four complete blog posts and thrown them all into the trash without showing them to a single living soul.

    It’s not that I hate my writing, or that I’m afraid of sharing it with the world. Humility and discretion are qualities I’ve never been accused of possessing. No, the problem is that the simple act of writing down my feelings, opinions, or beliefs changes them beyond recognition. As I go from idea to rough draft to a polished blog post, my real feelings twist and mutate to a degree that the words I’ve committed to the page no longer represent what I believe to be true.

    Or, rather than changing them outright, sometimes the act of writing makes my beliefs and opinions more nuanced. My boldfaced takes about hustle culture or large language models get buried under more and more qualifiers until the final thesis of my writing is reduced to a noncommittal “it depends”.

    Writing is thinking. It’s a platitude that gets repeated time and time again in every lecture, book, essay, and tweet toot skeet about writing. Having heard it repeated all my life, I’ve always known on a logical level that writing down my beliefs would make me question them. But the problem with platitudes is that they don’t really sink in until you’ve experienced them for yourself.

    Now that I’ve experienced what writing is thinking means, this truism has finally left somewhat of an impression on the soggy birthday cake that is my brain. I’m also starting to understand why it’s true. Why would something as simple as writing down the words that are already inside my head make me question them?

    This is what happens: as I take the nebulous swirl of feelings and opinions in my head and attempt to pin them down into something more concrete for a blog post, I’m forced to interrogate them in a way that I can’t do while they’re still being pumped out by the fog machine in my hypothalamus. Writing down my beliefs severs the very personal connection I have with them, putting a greater distance between myself and my thoughts. This allows me to view them more objectively, almost as if they were written by a complete stranger. Under this scrutiny, they either dissipate into smoke or turn into something else entirely.

    That doesn’t mean trying to pin down these feelings is pointless. It’s still useful work, even if it doesn’t result in any published blog posts. Every time I write down what I feel with the intention of communicating it to another human being, I learn something new about myself. Whether the writing rings true or not, whether I publish it or not, I still end up with more self-knowledge than I started with. Any activity that helps me learn more about myself is worth investing time into, even if it results in no extrinsic rewards.

    I’m starting to make peace with the fact that most of the writing I do while doing this internal work will forever remain in my private journal. If I want to write things that draw from my very personal beliefs, feelings, and convictions, then I will have to be okay with throwing away thousands of words of perfectly good prose. If this means that my Internet friends never get to hear the real dubstep of my soul, so be it.

    But all of this still leaves me in a pickle. I very much want to write in public, and I want my writing to be deeply personal above all else. If my feelings keep changing even as I understand them enough to write them down, then how am I ever supposed to publish anything?

    I don’t have a permanent solution to this. However, at least for the moment, I feel like I need to anchor my writing to something outside of myself. This could be a piece of media that speaks to me, somebody else’s writing, an event that left an impression on me, a news story, or anything else in the world outside of my own self.

    That doesn’t mean I stop telling my own personal truth. It just means that I use something outside of myself as a starting point for my writing, and then I let my own truth flow from there.

    Maybe I won’t need this crutch in the future, but for now I just want to write and publish as much as I can. I’m happy to try anything that will help me get there.

  • This is the last weeknote I intend to write, at least for the near future.

    Posting these regular bulletins has given me great pleasure over the years, but I’m no longer enjoying the process as much as I used to. There are two reasons for this.

    First: I’m not a fan of arbitrary deadlines, especially when they threaten to make my hobbies feel like work. The weeknote format, by its very nature, dictates when I’m allowed to begin writing an entry, as well as the amount of time I’m allowed to spend writing it before I must post it online. This wouldn’t be a problem if I wasn’t such a slow writer, but I am. I’ve spent many Monday evenings scrambling to finish a post so I could publish it before bedtime, and it’s starting to wear thin on me. I don’t want to experience this kind of anxiety over a hobby that is supposed to be fun.

    Second: weeknotes take time away from other things I want to write. While I try to set aside some time for writing each day, in practice I’m only able to indulge myself two or three times a week. If I dedicate one of my rare writing days to weeknotes, I’m left with one less day to spend on everything else I want to explore. The result? A drafts folder full of unfinished blog posts, unexplored ideas, and unpleasant feelings.

    I’ve written fifty-two weeknotes since posting my first one in November 2018. A pretty good showing, if I say so myself. I’ve had a lot of fun writing these. However, I think I’ve wrung out as much enjoyment out of this practice as I’m ever going to get. It’s time to move on.

    Dear reader, thank you for following along. I promise you that I will continue to use this blog to turn my personal trauma into cheap entertainment for you. It just won’t be in weeknote format anymore.


    • I sat at a weird angle in bed and hurt my neck and shoulders. I thought this body had a few good years left in it, but I fear it might be time for me to check myself into geriatric care.
    • Reading Christine gave me nightmares for three nights straight. The closer I got to the end of the book, the more terrifying my nightmares became, until one day I woke up at 4am, sweaty and confused, and could not go back to sleep again. Ten out of ten experience, highly recommended.
    • Talking of nightmares: when I was a child, I watched an episode of Aahat in which people’s reflections were able to murder them through mirrors. For months afterward, I refused to enter rooms that had mirrors in them unless I was escorted by an adult. My parents were not pleased, and they banned me from watching anything scary ever again. Even today, I get spooked by mirrors. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who had this experience growing up, because “aahat haunted mirror episode” is an autocomplete suggestion on Google, and the first link in the search results takes you to the episode hosted on Sony’s official YouTube channel.
    • I’m now reading Lily King’s Writers and Lovers. The first chapter of this book starts with the most cliché protagonist-wakes-up-and-goes-to-work scene that you can imagine. This sort of opening — in books, movies, and even games — is an instant turnoff for me. That said, Writers and Lovers gets real good real quick, so I can forgive this minor transgression. It’s a sweet, well-written romance that tackles painful topics without letting things get too heavy. Just what I need to chase away the nightmares.
    • There’s a belief I’ve unconsciously held for many years that keeps me from fully enjoying all the different art I like to engage with. The belief goes something like this: all the books I read, movies I watch, games I play, or music I listen to must have some sort of artistic merit. This “artistic merit” is defined either by practitioners who make the same kind of art or — more often — by critics who have studied it all their lives. I’d never been able to put this belief in words until last week. Now that I’ve managed to do it, I can see how harmful it is, and I’m starting to question it. But that’s a topic for another, much longer blog post. If I ever get to it.

    Links of the Week

    Media Diet

    • Reading: Writers and Lovers by Lily King
    • Playing: Hades (Nintendo Switch)
    • Playing: Banner Saga (Nintendo Switch)

    • Another late weeknote for y’all. I’m becoming a Tuesday person, despite my best efforts to be a different, better type of person.
    • February in Bangalore marks the beginning of the city’s transition from winter to a brief spring to summer. Historically, these seasonal transitions have always been hard on my mental health, pushing me into quitting jobs, ending contracts early, or taking weeks off of work. I’m hoping that this time, all years I’ve spent working on my mental health will help me make it through February, March, and April unscathed.
    • As you’d expect, I’ve been emotionally all over the place. I’m having a hard time focusing on work or household chores, instead spending hours every day scrolling through Mastodon, my RSS reader, or the orange website. I’m trying to reign it in, but experience has taught me that all I can really do is take care of myself and wait for things to improve on their own.
    • Of course, there’s another way to look at seasonal depression: as a signal from my mind and body indicating that something in my life needs to change. Unfortunately, finding out what exactly it is that needs to change is a totally different ballgame. This is an ongoing process that will take me months or years to figure out.
    • On Sunday, I went to Champaca to hear Aanchal Malhotra speak about her debut novel, The Book of Everlasting Things. Like her previous two non-fiction books, this novel also deals with themes of Partition. I can’t imagine the emotional toll she must have paid as she wrote these stories. Even though I bought a copy, I’m not sure if I’ll have the stomach to read it anytime soon. My grandparents on both sides were displaced by this senseless tragedy in 1947, and I’ve heard enough horrific accounts of what happened to last me a lifetime.
    • Nerlu Café. Good coffee, good food. Go.

    Links of the Week

    Media Diet

    • Reading: Christine by Stephen King
    • Listening to: This is Why by Paramore
    • Watched: Dune
    • Re-watched: Everything Everywhere All At Once

    • Tuesday afternoon weeknote? Why not? My website, my rules.
    • Blame the lack of weeknotes in the last few weeks on my ill-fated efforts to start exercising. This is what’s been happening, on loop, every single week: I attempt to kick off an exercise routine on Monday morning, feel great for a few hours, start feeling progressively worse as the day wears on, end the day with a bad cold, and have to spend the rest of the week recovering. I don’t know about other people, but sickness and exhaustion don’t quite put me in a writerly mood.
    • I’ve finally figured out an exercise routine that is ridiculously, laughably, stupidly slow and gentle. It doesn’t make me fall ill every time I work out, so I’m going to stick to it for a while. If bodies are temples, then mine is an abandoned ritual site for some kind of dimension-spanning Lovecraftian terror.
    • I’m now focusing all my energy on fixing my health. I’ve put a lot of things on hold just so I can get to a baseline level of fitness that is reasonable for somebody my age. I still can’t tell if this is an after-effect of getting COVID, a result of getting older, or just the natural consequence of months of sedentary living. One of these days I’ll take myself to a doctor, I promise.
    • Summer is slowly making its presence felt in Bangalore, which means my cats are full of boundless, murderous energy. They’ve started to wake up at 4AM so they can rip each other’s guts out. They choose to have their fights inside my room, often on my bed, sometimes right on top of my body, and so they’ve been banned from the bedroom until the weather turns cold again.
    • My doctor cut the dosage of my anxiety medication in half yet again, and she says I should be off the drugs in another two months or so! I’ve been having periods of increased anxiety since I switched to the lower dose, but I’ve had enough therapy by now to be able to manage it on my own.
    • I’ve been using dating apps for nearly a decade, but they’re not working for me anymore. While I’ve had a moderate amount of success using them for casual flings, I haven’t been able to find a fulfilling relationship through them. It’s clear that I need to look elsewhere if I want a long-term partner, so I’ve removed all the dating apps from my phone. Instead, I’m going to (gasp) look for romance in the real world.
    • All I want to do lately is read, which is in sharp contrast to how I was feeling just a few weeks ago. I’m currently making my way through Stephen King’s Christine, which is pretty standard King fare. I love pretty standard King fare. My patience for literary writing has been wearing thin, and Stephen King checks all my boxes for what I’m looking for in my fiction these days: stories that are simply fun, with no pretense of literary merit, no attempts to discuss the “human condition”, and no compulsion to enumerate the myriad failings of our societies. I’m looking for stories told well, and that’s all. When I finish reading Christine, I have a few romance novels lined up in my TBR. And some crime fiction after that. Eat my shorts, Dostoevsky.

    Links of the Week

    Media Diet

    • Reading: Christine by Stephen King
    • Playing (kinda): Rogue Legacy 2

  • I hope if there is another world, we will not be judged too harshly for the things we did wrong here — that we will at least be forgiven for the mistakes we made out of love.

    Joe Hill, Pop Art (published in 20th Century Ghosts)

    • I’m proud to announce that I’ve recently developed the ability to go for a walk at 7AM without wanting to murder somebody afterwards. Just goes to show that with grit and determination, I can achieve anything I set my mind to.
    • … but now I have a stuffy nose, body aches, and a headache that won’t go away. Just goes to show that exercise was invented by the devil to punish me and I should avoid it at all cost.
    • Feels like I fall sick every time I start an exercise routine, which is maybe something I should perhaps be slightly concerned about?
    • I really got into video games when the pandemic hit, and continued to enjoy them during my sabbatical last year. But gaming has recently started to become unsustainable for me. The screen time has been giving me headaches, my hands are hurt from mashing buttons all day, and sitting motionless for hours at a time hasn’t been good for my body (see above). I may get back to gaming if/when I take a long enough break from work again, but I’ve decided to stop spending my time on it for the near future.
    • I thought quitting video games would free up more time in my life for other, more analog hobbies, but I’ve immediately filled up my evenings with Linux and Emacs shenanigans. Will I ever learn? (No.)
    • My house has sprouted more leaks, making two rooms entirely unusable. I don’t like it and I don’t want to talk about it.
    • Journaling is one of my greatest pleasures in life. I try to write about 1000 words every morning as I drink my coffee, which doesn’t take me too long when I have something on my mind. I usually stop when I reach my target word count, coming back the next day to continue my line of thinking. However, this past week I’ve been consistently overshooting my target every single day. Each of recent my entries weighs in at 1500 words minimum, and some some of them are over 2000 words. It’s true that I have a lot on my mind at the moment, but I chalk up this output to the fact that lately I’ve started to enjoy the act of writing a lot more than I’ve ever done before. I’m pleased with this state of affairs, though I still can’t figure out how to turn what I’ve written into coherent blog posts I can share with the world.
    • My friends were aghast to discover that I never watched The Princess Diaries when I was a teenager, so they sat me down one weekend and made me watch it. Usually I’m a sucker for romantic comedies, but I had no expectations for this movie at all. A Disney movie from 2001? How good could it possibly be? Turns out I’d underestimated this film – or my own love for sappy stories with happy endings – because I ended up being hooked. Yes, it’s a silly wish-fulfillment fantasy for teenagers, but sometimes that’s exactly the kind of comforting fare you need to keep your head above the water.
    • And then I was made to watch Princess Diaries 2. It wasn’t as good as the first one, but it was still good and I was still invested. I guess deep down, I’ve always wanted to be a princess.

    Links of the Week

    Media Diet

    • Reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
    • Watched The Princess Diaries
    • Watched The Princess Diaries 2
    • DNF Dealers of Lightning by Michael Hiltzik