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Writer's block

Article Table of Contents

Some things about me:

  • I love to write, because it helps me think and remember.
  • I often feel this gnawing sense of inadequacy when I publish something online, because in some ways I’ve cultivated (for myself) a sense of being ‘a good-enough writer’.
  • I have hardly written anything publicly for months/years
  • I have written some interesting/good-enough posts in the last few years
  • I want to write more

A long time ago, I read If You Have Writer’s Block, Maybe You Should Stop Lying.

The tagline is

It’s not a technique problem, it’s a sincerity problem

Sasha’s not wrong.

The last few years have seen some big changes in my life, internally and externally, and often, I’ve had little idea how to handle these things.

I began intuiting that things were starting to wrong in some ways as the pandemic warmed up, and then basically kept watching in horror as circumstances kept plunging to new lows. Throughout this, there were periods of delight, joy, friendship, exploration, accomplishment, and adventure. But the good and the bad were artfully nestled together, always landing with such contrast to each other.

If I had to pick an inflection point, it would be 2019, as exemplified by my “normal” end-of-year review: 2019 Review. I published it months after I’d intended - probably in March.

It was a not-very-useful-to-me end-of-year review, because I’d not given it more than 1/3rd of the time I usually give annual reviews. (I’ll be doing a better one for 2022).

Broad areas of “having a sincerity problem” #

The rest of this piece will make more sense if you read Sasha’s article. here it is again if you want it.

I’ve indeed had difficulty expressing myself, in nearly every domain, for a few reasons. There’s TONS of “easy” things I can express.

For example, any technical topic I’d want to write about for my job as a software developer. None of these are emotionally charged. They’re technical and restful, like “how to reduce expensive database calls” or “some tips I’ve encountered for designing small, useful objects in Ruby”, or “how to work in a way slightly more conducive to someone who might have ADHD or other dopamine-related challenges.”

But I cannot get to THOSE topics without clearing some other blockages. So, here’s a collection of “hot takes” as related to domains that are relevant and important to me:

1. Thoughts about parenting #

My daughter, Eden, is a delight and a joy. I love spending time with her. I love watching her experience the world. I love helping her “boulder” up and down stairs, spotting her, catching her, encouraging her, witnessing her. Reflecting back to her the ways she experiences the world.

My thoughts on such things mostly come from books like:

I don’t feel much stress about if I will be a good or bad influence on Eden as she grows, and if I’ll be able to be an adequate or good-enough father to her. There’s a bunch of life events going on right now that are causing me to have less time with her than I wished, but when I do have time with her, I am utterly unconcerned about my role in her life. I have lots of examples of parenting/fathering gone well, and gone poorly, and feel an embodied sense of peace about most aspects of raising a child.

2. Feeling alienated from religious communities #

I’ve grown up in ‘religious communities’ my whole life. I have strongly de-identified with aspects of these communities as I’ve grown and matured, but sometimes in ways illegible to members of those communities. For reasons, I tend to be welcomed into those communities as an insider, which is an often strange experience, as I don’t feel like an insider.

Why do you feel like not an insider, Josh?

Many reasons, but most recently: I read a few books that grabbed my psyche and wouldn’t let go, and I couldn’t help but talk about them with other “insiders”, and the non-engaged response I kept getting caused me confusion and distance. Here’s a sketch of what I wanted to discuss openly with anyone who participated in an institution that could be rolled up into “evangelicalism”:

I wanted to talk about power structures, religion, “white supremacy”, colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and present day institutions.

I’d get a response that implied

eh, this is too much of a deviation from what we’re used to, I’d rather you not discuss these ideas and thoughts you have.

That response wasn’t what I’d have expected, nor what I’d have said myself. I would expect a weak response from most people, and could accept one without judgement of the other, but I couldn’t find peace with all of it. The legacy of abuse and mistreatment is strong in ‘the past’, and in ‘the present’ [^sbc-abuse]

[^sbc-abuse]: For example: Southern Baptists Refused to Act on Abuse, Despite Secret List of Pastors. The attitudes of the executive community, and their words, feel like direct quotes from The Origin of Pro-slavery Christianity. They say “we need more converts, and that work is more important than resolving the instances of [slavery abuse] that we’re seeing.” Here’s a link directly to the report on the years and decades of ongoing abuse: Guidepost Solutions’ Report of the Independent Investigation. I don’t find it cute, ethical, or appropriate to explain away these sorts of behaviors.

I remember, long ago, members of various institutions lamenting the loss of ‘vitality’ in their church, or the loss of young people, in the church. I started responding with a nod to the ideas expressed in the above books, something like:

Well, for a long time “the church in America” (Protestant, Baptist, Anglican, Southern Baptist, whatever) was a bastion of pro-slavery academic/religious thought, and perpetuated something akin to colonialism and ‘soft’ ethnic cleansing, and your children correctly perceive this unhappy influences, and rightfully want nothing to do with it. Perhaps you should explore their risk-aversive tendencies, instead of trying to brow-beat them into submission to your worldview.

I kept expecting some in the church to see the same interestingness I saw, in exploring this rabbit hole, and to go there with me, because the stakes were obviously so high. (Supporting ethical behavior, vs. supporting slavery and ethnic cleansing, for example). A few dear friends have, but far less than I’d expected.

3. Understanding issues of abuse and neglect #

Related to the above religious community experience, I’ve learned a bit more about what “emotional non-engagement” means for the human experience.

If we’re experiencing an emotion (joy, curiosity, enthusiasm, sadness, grief, despair) it’s common to be met with an engaged reaction from loved ones. A “role” one can play in the world, with the people you care for, is to reflect back to them your perception of what they’re experiencing, in a way that lets them agree or disagree, or refine your view.

Hah! I can see that you’re so excited about what you did. I can see some of the ways that looked fun and engaging. What were your favorite parts?

Thanks for telling me that. If that were me, I imagine I’d be feeling pretty discouraged, but I didn’t experience that. What are you feeling?

Something that seems endurably true for you is {positive view of how that person engages with the world}. It seems like you’re bringing that energy to {new domain} in {specific examples}. What’s your experience of all this?

These are tiny examples of “engaging” with what the other person is bringing to the table.

The opposite of this is to not engage, to be unswayed by the state of the other:

direct link to a 2:49 youtube video titled Still Face Experiment

As described in the video, it’s disregulating to the child to be met with a ‘still face’.

Now, obviously, this is an experiment. But it shows something akin to a mathematical principal, which is perhaps expressible as:

We’re wired deeply for emotional attunement from loved ones.

Children, obviously, are less skilled in areas like “emotional self-regulation” than a healthy adult, and healthy adults have access to tools and resources to understand their own needs (real or perceived) and take correct action (get needs met, or realize that it’s a perceived second-order need, rather than a ‘real’ first-order need).

This still face experiment highlights this problem that exists in the modern world, which is ‘emotional neglect/abandonment of the dignity of others is deemed entirely appropriate given certain extenuating circumstances’, like differences in power and age. This thesis is completely wrong and great harm flows as a result of it.

We know we’re not supposed to do “bad things” to other people - hit them, demean them, display abusive anger to them, because those are ‘doing bad things’. It’s much more subtle, and common, for modern adults to treat their loved ones with attitudes like the “still face experiment”. Not out of a desire to hurt the other person, but out of a weakness of some inner psychological scaffolding/support structure.

There’s a key piece to the ‘still face’ attitude, which is:

To be utterly unaffected by the obvious emotional inner state of the other.

This is a “skill” that the church teaches, and modern educational institutions teach. To browbeat a low-status person into submission, to get them to do whatever it is you want them to do, regardless of what they want.

But Josh if we didn’t force children to do {blank}, how would we make them do {blank}?

To which I’ve replied:

You perhaps mis-calibrate the relative costs and benefits to that path. You made the child do {thing you wanted}, and in the process, ruined the possibility of having {something you didn’t know you wanted, but actually probably do want}.

There is nothing laudable about crushing the souls of young people (or adults) because you think it’s good for them. This very atitude runs deep through “slaveholder christianity” and the concept of the “violent atonement”.

It’s viscerally distasteful to me, and these sorts of attitudes percolate up into many, many aspects of life.

4. Ethnic cleansing in America (and how it continues today) #

We all know slavery was bad, right? If you were alive in the 1800s, do you think you’d be sympathetic to the abolitionists? Do you think you’d actively engage in abolitionist activities? Do you think you’d even have heard of the word ‘abolitionist’?

We all know war is bad, right?1

Read the Wikipedia entry for “Ethnic Cleansing”

Ethnic cleansing is the systematic forced removal of ethnic, racial, and religious groups from a given area, with the intent of making a region ethnically homogeneous.

Ethnic cleansing is, to put it bluntly, a severe evil. It goes hand in hand with “genocide”.

Here’s my bold take:

Ethnic cleansing is bound tightly to modern political regimes in America. Most relevantly, to “land use laws” in municipalities across America. I’ve expanded upon this idea here:

Full Copy of ‘The Atlanta Zone Plan’ from 1922

American evangelical churches were often the most vigorous advocates of violently exclusionary legal regimes. It was all plain, boring, ethnic conflict and ethnic cleansing.

This regime is deeply rooted in the world today, and brings great harm to everyone. Housing and transportation, as industries and frameworks that could be competently run, were instead co-opted by politically powerful members of a certain ethnic group, and weaponized against members of other ethnic groups, in order to further the utopian goals of those politically powerful groups.

I believe that churches today, and their congregations, if they wanted to re-access joy, vitality, and a sense of purpose, would do well to examine the role their church (or churches like theirs) played in displacing ethnic minorities between 50 and 100 years ago, and they could think long and hard about what it would mean to start making repair for their actions.

5. My scooter (broadly) and a 3000 mile trip I took on it from Denver to Vernon, BC, Seattle, WA, and back to Denver #

I’ve not yet written about my scooter/moped/motor-scooter thing on this website. Any of you that interact with me in the real world, or follow my instagram, might know that I’ve been ruined by my use of a moped to get around Denver.

Here’s a map I built of all my location data across the last ~1.5 years of riding a scooter full-time:

I’ve been LOTS OF PLACES in Denver. My obsession with mobility networks causes me to find great interest (and sadness, and sometimes joy) wherever I go. I mourn for American populations who are crippled by inadequate mobility networks, and are forced into expensive and consumptive vehicles. Alas. I love my moped, and think you should get one too.

More on that later, but I’ve been surprisingly affected by owning a moped. I first owned a Buddy Kick 125, which then got stolen, and I replaced it with a Lance Cabo 200i.

The Lance Cabo has a 170cc engine, and it was sufficient for me to ride it to Canada, then Seattle, and back. This trip was formative to me, and I’ll write more about it later.

6. Divorce #

I’ve found myself learning much more recently about the legal process of undoing a marriage, and it feels like there’s some weak mental models and few examples of people who’ve done such things skillfully or appropriately. There can be simple versions of this and complicated versions of this. I’m on the more complicated side of things, I’d say, as we have a child and a house.

7. Depression #

Depression. A dear friend. I first wrote about this back in July of 2021 and have only had more experiences and thoughts about depression since then.

Nothing is static, and I believe I will be OK. For example, I am not at risk of self-harm, but there have been many external indicators that I’ve been involved in ‘trying times’ for a while.

Conclusion #

My life is short. I’m already 33. I want to spend my life energy on things that matter, and I believe in most situations there is a range of “ethical responses” and a range of “unethical responses”. Joy and math is on the side of ethical responses, but habit and fear is on the side of unethical responses.

I have a child, and I’d like her to grow up in a world less affected by broken people and evil power structures than the current world. I feel like the best path there is to be vigorously healthy and whole myself, and to assemble around me people, skills, habits, competencies, and resources that allow for an environment of joy, rest, peace, and growth.

I’ve made a dent in my writer’s block. I’ve expressed some of what I’d been reticent to express, or wasn’t sure how to say without sounding like a petulant child. Maybe I still do sound like a petulant child, but this is my website, I can write whatever helps me get thoughts down. I believe writing things when they’re top-of-mind:

Footnotes #

  1. I’ve moved a bit on my views of war since my highschool neo-conservative days. I no longer take seriously, nor respect, persons who advocate for violence as a solution to anything. I view advocates of violence as traumatized, unimaginative, and possibly dangerous. I reject any assertion that says the burden of proof is on me to prove that violence cannot solve problems.