Friday 2017-12-01

David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech on intellectual blindness which was referenced by Josh Waitzkin in his Progression Project interview which together highlight a trade-off that I've been struggling with recently.

Wallace and Waitzkin talk about deforming their minds so as to consciously choose who they are. This volitional deformation is simultaneously life-saving and deeply moral for Wallace; so much so that he would rather regard it as a formative process. Waitzkin points out that this control of perspective and mind has more uses than just life-saving -- e.g. mastering a sport -- and that this process is properly deformational, as a) the goal might not be attained, and b) the process might not be survived.

Waitzkin then advances the argument by deforming his reality -- i.e. he cannot do what he wants on the waves around New York City, so he is moving to be near his coach and better waves. Naturally, there's a spectrum ranging from purely mental deformation to purely reality deformation. Waitzkin could have deformed his mind further so as to not care where mainstream paddleboarding was going, and instead just have done his own thing on the waves of NYC. He chose instead to move.

In skateboarding, there's a "local ruler" concept -- i.e. someone who knows well both the local city and how to skate it. They work hard to deform reality and their minds, just so they can skate: they explore the city, befriend cops, earn enough to pay for a deck every two weeks and a pair of shoes every four, all while doing well enough in school to keep their parents happy. And yet despite the constraints, local rulers thrive.

Where then should the balance be struck?

Throughout the interview, Waitzkin refers to the importance of reading the ocean's waves. Some people look at open water and out of the jumble of waves see where they want to be. The same can be said of a city -- out of the jumble of advantages and incentives there are definite places to be. It's just that when I look around my home city, I don't see them, and I don't feel like a local ruler.

A big part of the problem is that neither my vocation nor my avocations get me 'in the water', where there's feedback and a personal need. Since I like my work and where I live, seems then that it's time to deform some reality and mentality....