“Like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and my first report card at school.”

My grandfather made a deal with me: I’d get a quarter for every A on my report card.

When I told my grandfather how much he owed me, he’d repeat the same mantra, pointing to his head:

You need your education, because this up here… That’s something nobody can take away from you.

Over time the price for an A went up, but the sentiment remained the same. The money was never really the point. I wanted to see his pride in me. I wanted him to know I took his words to heart.

He was trying to make a point about education, but it felt weightier. Inside your own mind, that’s yours. Nothing gets in without your permission. Nothing loses its place unless you let it go.

I’ve been thinking about this side of it a lot lately. On the days when I feel I’ve been a poor gatekeeper for my mind; the days it feels like some people can set up shop in your head, whether or not you remember asking them in.

It feels strange to remember how there was a time when I needed to go to a specific room in the house and wait for a dial-up modem to screech to life before I could talk to my friends or look something up.

It used to take effort to connect. Now it takes more effort to disconnect.

I’ve tried some limited sabbaticals. Using lists and filtering and content blockers. Setting rules that I wind up bending or outright discarding. Some days I’ll put my phone in airplane mode and chuck it to the other side of the room. The chucking is an important step.

I keep coming back to the idea that the way you connect and share your thoughts shapes the rest of the thoughts you have.

If you’re a long term Twitter user, you know when you’ve got something roughly pithy enough to post. You know when you’ve got a link to share on Facebook that will rile up that uncle/old roommate/random acquaintence of yours whose political views you detest. You know when your brunch or your candid wedding shot is good enough for Instagram, and what filter you should slap on it.

We don’t just let ideas in. We let in whole ways of thinking.

I recently heard someone paraphrasing Siegrid Löwel’s description of how the brain creates neural connections through repeated use: “Cells that fire together, wire together.”

Or put it another way, via Aristotle:

We are what we repeatedly do.


I’ve had a couple different ideas of what this blog was all about since I started it a few years ago. I’ve posted fitfully, trying to sew my parachute on the way down. Now I feel like I have a little more sense of what I want from it.

I want a place where the shape of the content is defined by the needs of the idea and not the preferences of a platform’s programmers or investors.

I want to do my best to be helpful to others.

I want to actively think and write, not just react. More creator, less commentator.

I want to align my actions and my time spent with what’s most important to me.


This is going to be a space where I spend a lot of time talking about movies and TV shows. I get the criticism that this can seem pretty frivolous at any time, but particularly right now. But the way I see it:

  • I’m not the best equipped to add something insightful to the strictly political/journalistic discourse.
  • It’s best to focus on the things you love most if you want to put something positive out into the universe.
  • The best way I know how to talk about the bigger, weightier things of the world is to look at them through the lens of art/storytelling/film.
  • It’s important to consider how our culture and popular culture reflect ourselves back to us, because part of how we construct the narratives about our lives comes from the narratives we consume.

Alright, declaration of principles: check.

Now to get back to churning out some more material…

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Stop Saying You’re A Bad Writer

Stop it. Right now.

That voice telling anyone who’ll listen that you’re a bad writer? The one that needs to put down anything you’ve written before somebody gets a chance to make up their own mind about it? That one that stops you from moving forward on the work you need to do?

Separate it from yourself. Call it the voice of Insecurity.

Yes, with a capital I. Insecurity is its own being, like a parasite or a demon that needs to be exorcised.

Insecurity loves to waste your time. And it loves to make other people think they’re wasting their time with you. Insecurity will flat out tell people that your work isn’t worth their attention.

Insecurity will try to tell people that you aren’t worth their time.

But Insecurity isn’t you, and it doesn’t need to be permanent. You can quiet that voice. You can find confidence to supplant it.

Confidence starts when you stop using the passive voice to speak about yourself. Stop thinking “I am a bad writer.” like it’s a constant.

You build confidence through action, so adjust your thinking accordingly.

Look at what you did, not just at what you produced: I wrote today. I edited this. I found a different way to say this. I asked for help.

If you say “I am a bad writer,” you commit to that idea. You choose to accept it. You make it so.

Practice builds confidence. Write. Write a lot, but don’t only write. Immersing yourself in the written word, critiquing other writing, and listening openly and deeply to those who offer to critique your work are all part of the practice.

You focus on the practice, because some days leave you disappointed; so the good days come more often. But no matter the outcome, the effort remains the same. The momentum of actively working carries you through.

Focus on the practice to remind yourself that the writing and the writer both keep changing.

Practice until you stop saying “I’m a bad writer.” Practice until you learn to say “I write.” Then keep practicing.

Seabase Alpha

The Hydrolators. A row of specially designed, retro-futuristic elevators ready to take guests under the ocean to visit Seabase Alpha. I held my father’s hand and waited for my family’s turn to board. I tapped my feet, eyes darting over the crowd of sunscreen-scented tourists, cameras at the ready. They went inside the Hydrolators, the doors closed, and a minute later, another group would board.

I was ten years old, and I wouldn’t put my head underwater in a pool unless suitably bribed. During the swimming lessons my mother insisted I take at the YMCA, I clung to whatever flotation device I was offered. That pool, with its dim, sickly green lighting, appeared bottomless. The instructor said I could float on my own if I just laid back and trusted the water to hold me.

But I knew things could sink. Water swallows them up. I kept my white knuckle grip on the kickboard.

My parents and I entered The Living Seas pavilion mostly knowing what to expect. There was a short movie about the ocean and a ride that took you around a coral reef. Yes, water and I didn’t get along, but there was a fight going on inside me.

I was the kid who told his preschool teacher that he wanted to be a paleontologist when he grew up (and then had to explain what that was to his classmates). I was the kid who checked out every Isaac Asimov branded book about space from my elementary school’s library, one by one. I was the kid who wanted to spend a big chunk of our trip to Disney World going to as many of the attractions at Epcot as we possibly could.

That was the battle: Science is cool! vs. Your watery death is an inevitability.

The crowd thinned out and we waited to move up. I started sniffling. Impatient twitching turned into fearful trembling.

I knew that Body Wars didn’t really shrink my family down and inject us into somebody’s body to swoop around inside their capillaries. I knew that when Pluto snuck up behind me at breakfast and put his gigantic mouth on top of my head, it was just a person in a suit.

But an elevator? Those are real.

One of the Disney World employees saw me and came over to talk. She asked what I was scared of and I told her that I was afraid of going down so deep.

She could have taken us to an exit. She could have said it was alright to pass on something you were scared of and left it at that.

Instead, she showed me a door. She lead my family off to the side of the Hydrolators to a door marked for staff use only and pushed it open for me to look through.

I saw the other side of the Hydrolators. They didn’t go anywhere.

The Epcot employee explained to me that there were a lot of effects that happened in the Hydrolators to make it feel like you were moving, but it was just for show. Something they did to make the ride feel more special. And then the doors on the other side would open.

She asked if I still wanted to go on the ride, and I nodded. She pointed to the line of people getting ready to get into the cars that would take us all around the reef and said we could head right over.

But I wanted to go back and see the Hydrolators. I wanted to see the bubbles. I wanted to feel the shaking. I wanted to see the rock walls moving behind the elevator glass to simulate sinking deep into the ocean.

I wanted to learn how this whole exhibit had made me ignore all the obvious red flags that a science-minded kid should have recognized (Such as “How would they build an undersea base in Orlando, which is in the middle of Florida’s peninsula?”). I wanted to laugh at myself for being afraid of this magic trick.

Peering through that door opened up worlds to me. That moment carried greater resonance when I got around to reading Philip K. Dick and Jean Baudrillard. The memory was sitting in the background as I watched Jurassic Park and thought about how maybe paleontology wasn’t for me, but there might be something to storytelling and film. I still think about that moment in a more literal sense, like when my wife and I went to Universal Studios, and I spent time on the rides looking for the tricks. Trying to spot the seams of the illusions. That moment even crept up during my first encounters with Buddhism.

But maybe the most important part of that moment for me to remember is the compassion of the employee, and how she did more than just try to calm me down and keep the ride going. She showed me that there could be joy both in being tricked and in discovering how it had happened; that skepticism and wonder don’t need to be mutually exclusive.