Knowing Your Scales
One of my friends was freestyle dancing today and was asked how he did it. He said that there were a few fundamental moves, and once you knew the moves, you could combine them in unlimited combinations depending on how you feel.
As jazz musicians rely on scales to improvise during performances, mastering scales is fundamental in every craft. Practice them regularly to establish a strong foundation.
Finding the Other
When I went solo travelling to South America back in the Summer of ’22, I easily talked with over a hundred people. Within the first minute of talking to someone, I’d know if this was a one night conversation or someone I want to hang out with more. But there were a few people, less than 5, that I truly bonded with. People that I’d be best friends with if the timing and situation was right. There’s people I can hang out with for convenience, and there’s people I can hang out with because we vibe on a fundamental level.
A core part of the human experience is finding your people, people that you truly vibe with, people that you feel energized to be around. Today, I’m at the Verci retreat, I’ve been to all three retreats so far. Verci deserves a much longer essay because a daily post can’t do it justice, it’s been a core part of my NYC experience and through the community I’ve met many kindred spirits. If you haven’t found the other yet, they are out there, you just got to look for them.
Take the Leap
Four years ago, I took the leap and decided to write every day. Everything in my life directly and indirectly has come through writing. I’ve met one of my best friends through writing, I got my current job through writing, and much of my personal growth has come from writing.
A year and a half ago, I took the leap to move to New York City. I’ve now made friends from all over the world, built a life here, and I can see myself living here long term.
Around that same time, I took the leap and started a writing club with a few friends in the city. I’ve always dreamed of being part of a creative community, who knew I’d start one myself.
As today (or yesterday if you’re reading this as a newsletter) is leap day, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on the leaps you have taken in your own journey.
Reflections From OTWC’s Write-a-thon
As anyone who’s planned events before knows, the final days leading up to an event are when everything comes together. This period is stressful, chaotic, and exhilarating, though it can be overwhelming at times. During this time, I’ll question why I keep putting myself through this.
I was talking to my friend Y, who’s hosting an event of his own, and he told me that if you don’t feel anxious or scared about an event, then is it even worth hosting? It’s a good point. For me, hosting events is a form of world-building where I can control the laws, the atmosphere, and the guest list.
The day beforehand, my mind can’t help but run through worst-case scenarios but most of the work is done at this point. Now, you must trust in your preparation and ensure the event goes smoothly.
We were worried about the 9am start time on a Sunday, would anyone show up at that time? Most people showed up at the start or very near to it.
We were worried about the schedule for the day, would people begin to drop off and get tired during the afternoon? Everyone worked hard throughout the day, not just in the morning.
We were worried about hosting the open mic at the end and if people would sign up. 8 writers signed up and delivered inspiring performances, which were well-received by the supportive and fun group in attendance. I too shared a piece I was working on and I had blast reading it.
At the end of the night, people praised the event, expressing their enjoyment and satisfaction with the work produced during that time. And that’s honestly all that matters.
Everyone Needs Copium
Urban Dictionary defines copium as, “Lying to yourself in order to cope with something.” It combines the words cope and opium.
While visiting a friend in San Francisco, he mentioned wanting to stay in SF because of the weather. As he said that, I thought of the high living expenses, the homeless problem, and the city feeling like a ghost town. I thought he was high on copium.
But it got me thinking, what isn’t copium? Today was the nicest weather we’ve had in NYC in months and I talked to my coworker about how the Winter makes us tough and appreciate the Summer more. That’s copium.
A gratefulness practice like the 5 minute journal is copium.
Positive psychology is copium.
I think everyone needs to take even a bit of copium to function in modern-day society.
During my solo trip to South America, one of my favourite memories is watching a Colombian soccer match between two rival teams. The lively atmosphere in the stadium, with fans chanting and cheering throughout the game, made it a memorable experience for me as it was my first soccer match.
Collective effervescence is the sense of unity and connection felt when individuals come together for a common goal, such as at concerts. This shared experience of harmony with a large group is fundamental to human connection.
Take It In
After the Write-a-thon today, my friend sent me a touching note about the growth of the Olive Tree Writing Club over the years. He encouraged me to pause during the event and take it all in.
One of my flaws as an organizer is that I tend to focus on the flaws and areas of improvement during an event. Despite the stress, challenges, and time commitment, the fulfillment of running a successful event outweighs all the struggles.
Impress Your Past Self
An old friend recently messaged me saying that my daily writing practice is ridiculously impressive. Writing daily has become second nature to me, like other routine activities such as brushing my teeth or eating lunch.
Achieving a goal often seems less spectacular when we are the ones achieving it. However, reflecting on my dedication, persistence, and passion for writing now, I realize my past self would be very impressed by my commitment to daily writing. Perhaps that’s a worthy goal to pursue: impress your past self.
What Makes an Attractive City?
School of Life’s video outlines 6 points on What Makes an Attractive City:
Variety and order - “Order means balance, symmetry and repetition… Order is one of the reasons so many people love Paris… However, excessive order can be just as much a problem.”
Visible life - “There are streets that are dead and streets that are alive. And in general, we crave the live ones.”
Compact - “All the most beautiful compact cities have squares… The ideal square must offer a sense of containment not claustrophobia.”
Orientation and mystery - “By definition, cities are HUGE. But the cities that a lot of people love also have lots of little backstreets and small lanes where you can feel cozy and get a bit lost.”
Scale - “Modern cities are all about BIG things. Joseph Campbell once wrote, ‘If you want to see what a society really believes in, look at what the biggest buildings on the horizon are dedicated too…’ The ideal height for any city block is 5 stories high - no more… Of course, occasionally there can be a huge building, but lets keep that for something really special - something all of humanity can love.”
Make it local - “We don’t want building’s to look the same everywhere.”
NYC checks all of these boxes.
Variety and order. New York City is energetic and bustling, but it doesn’t feel chaotic in a disorganized way.
Visible life. NYC is a walkable city and has the best transit system in North America. As a result, the streets are alive with local shops, pedestrians, and tourists alike.
Compact. NYC has the quintessential grid system, so all the streets are numbers. Most neighborhoods are self-contained communities with everything you need like groceries, pharmacies, and banks.
Orientation and Mystery. NYC is a massive city but whatever scene you’re looking for you can find it here.
Scale. This is an interesting point because one criticism of the city is that many of the tallest buildings are expensive residential properties on Billionaire’s Row, with owners often keeping them vacant as investment properties.
Make it local. There’s no shortage of local shops, restaurants, and brands based in the city.
If it Doesn’t Make Sense, Speak Up
As a kid, I would play some video games that straight-up sucked. I’d wonder if the developers had the self-awareness to know they were shipping a mediocre game. But no one intends to make a trash video game. Later I learned after working in software for a few years that making bad products is common and pretty easy.
I read a tweet awhile back stating that behind every failed product is someone who stayed silent in a meeting. It’s common for people to feel uneasy but not express their concerns in a meeting. Don’t ever be that guy. Always speak up. Always voice your concerns. You might just prevent a failure.
On Repeating Yourself
Recently, I’ve been struggling to come up with ideas to write about. It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about, it’s that I constraint myself to write about a new idea every day. When you write every day for as long as I have, that becomes difficult. The other day I was going to write about an idea but then I remembered that I wrote about it in 2021. Yet, no one is going to remember the piece I wrote about in 2021.
It’s okay to repeat yourself. Many writers repeat similar ideas again and again and just phrase them in different ways. Repeating yourself is necessary for an idea to stick.
James Taylor’s most popular song is Fire and Rain. Whenever you go to a James Taylor concert, you anticipate the moment he sings this song.
James Taylor has sung this song maybe thousands of times in his career. I’m sure it gets tiring. But a true professional can perform the same song 10,000 with the enthusiasm of when he sang it for the first time.
The Ocky Way is a deli chef in the Bronx known for making custom sandwiches using his signature style called The Ocky Way. Each Ocky Way video features familiar catchphrases like “Suuuure!” and “Can’t forget the Bev?” The repetitive format of his videos is oddly captivating, with viewers eagerly awaiting these catchphrases. This style is reminiscent of the appeal of a catchy slogan, joke, or phrase.
On Going to the Gym
I wake up at 7 am, put on my gym clothes I laid out the night before, brush my teeth, mix creatine in my blender bottle, put on my jacket, and head to the gym around the corner. The walk takes about a minute. I store my jacket and bag in the locker room, smell the rubber mats and iron weights, and listen to the trap music playing which gets me pumped. Despite the early hour, the gym is already packed with people. When I arrive at the gym I understand that it’s time to work. This isn’t a place to coast, this isn’t a place to slack off, this is a place to grind.
I started going to the gym in the Summer of 2013. I asked out my high school crush at the time, and she said no, inspiring my first villain arc. I started working out that Summer. The gym was my therapy, I channeled all the emotions that I was feeling into my workouts.
I recall watching ice1cube’s video where he originally worked out because he wanted girls to like him but his motivation evolved into a desire to better himself. His story resonates with many guys, including myself. A rejection is what prompted me to start working out after all. As time passed, my body changed, I became stronger, and gained muscle. What began as an effort to enhance my appearance for girls evolved into a journey of self-improvement. The gym became a place for me to challenge myself daily.
More than 10 years later, I still regularly go to the gym. The gym raised me: it taught me patience, it taught me consistency, and it taught me hard work. Perhaps the greatest lesson of all is it taught me to embrace my body and be confident in who I am.
On Spending Time in New York
Today, my friend Edmund made a video explaining how moving to New York contributed the most to his creative growth through his dance journey.
I’ve had a similar story in my time in New York. I moved here because the center of writing is in New York: the big four publishers are here, the NYT is here, and many writers I admire call New York home. I couldn’t find the right community, so I started one myself. And I have met so many writers across the city. So many have inspired me to be better, and so many have inspired me to continue honing my craft.
I often describe NYC as the internet but in real life. It’s vast, diverse, and distracting at times, but whatever you are looking for you can find it in NYC.
My friend recently pointed out that I am gaining momentum. I have felt this internally for years, but it’s becoming more noticeable externally.
Building momentum in the beginning is challenging. I spent years finding my voice, developing my habits, and creating a strong foundation. This foundation has allowed me to shift focus toward external growth opportunities, such as building community, my writing, and relationships.
Ultimately internal momentum leads to external momentum.
Discipline Over Inspiration
When I show up for my haircut appointment at my local barbershop, my barber doesn’t say, “Hey, I don’t feel like cutting your hair today. Can you return when I’m feeling inspired?” He shows up and does the work.
Amateur writers only write when they’re inspired. Writing when you’re inspired is easy. Writing when you’re not inspired is hard. And that’s what separates amateurs from professionals.
One lesson I take away from writing every day is that inspiration isn’t reliable, creativity is a discipline. The hard part is letting go of my ego, letting go of the need to write something clever or original, and instead let the words flow. That’s when creativity emerges.
The Shortening of Trend Cycles
Trends used to cycle every 20 years. But now that’s no more.
The emergence of TikTok and fast fashion has led to micro-trends with a cycle time as short as a few months or even a few weeks. Fashion is already one of the most destructive industries in the world, we’re entering a period of irreversible climate change and fast fashion is the last thing we need.
Perhaps one positive of this rise of micro-trends is that because there are so many micro-trends co-existing at any one time, the Overton window of fashion is quite wide. We can see this, especially in menswear. Menswear is in its golden age as it is more expressive, ambitious, and experimental than it has ever been.
On Romantic Relationships
I’ve written daily for more than four years now, and out of those 1500+ blog posts I haven’t written a single post on love or romantic relationships. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say about the topic, rather it’s a topic I feel uncomfortable talking about. The thought of writing about this topic I can’t help but feel the judgment of others: my family, my friends, and my coworkers, many of whom I know read my blog.
And much of the reason is that it’s been almost a decade since my first serious-ish relationship. I have not dated much since then. And much of my drive to self-improve as a teenager and young adult has been fueled by heartbreak and self-rejection in my romantic life.
Yet, I have no regrets. It’s been so long since I’ve experienced love, the feeling is almost foreign to me. Some may see that as a tragedy but the most significant lesson I learned from this journey to love and access myself as I am.
Private Study Rooms
Credits to Derek Guy
Perhaps if artists were giving touring of their homes on MTV cribs, they’d open the door to their private study room and say, “This is where the magic happens.” Seeing famous artists creative spaces makes me want my own.
Here are a few artists and their private study rooms:
Hunter S Thompson
Cultivate Your Beginner’s Mind
Beginners may lack experience and skills but they make up for it in hunger, curiosity, and naïveté. Outsiders often innovate within an industry because they question the norms and bring a fresh perspective to the space.
But as beginners develop their skills and gain expertise, drive turns to comfort, curiosity turns to ego, and naïveté becomes jadedness.
A true master has the experience and judgment of an expert but the mindset of a beginner.
Obvious to You, Non-Obvious to Everyone Else
When I discover something new or gain a fresh understanding, my motivation to write about it is highest in the beginning. However, this enthusiasm tends to diminish quickly, sometimes within a day or a few hours. The topic starts to feel obvious to me, and I assume it’s the same for others.
Writing has taught me that what may seem obvious to me is not always apparent to others. That’s why it’s important to share your work and see what resonates with people. Sometimes, you need to detach yourself from your own perspective and realize that something that may not excite you could be fascinating to someone else.
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