Hello! My name is Yamen. I'm a Laser Fractal Space Wizard.
Complicated Reality is a collection of my art and writing.


Believing things is simple, finding truth is tricky.
Reality is in between, it gets complicated quickly.
I can't tell you how it is, only show you how I see it,
but every time I take a closer look I find a deeper secret.
I make crafts with fractal math, mix chaos and equations.
Simple rules and special tools make stunning presentations.
I wonder if the world outside my screen is just the same,
iterated patterns in some cosmic chaos game?
But even if we are, I've found a niche that works for me,
exploring all the nuance, and sharing what I see.
Sometimes it's with a render, sometimes it's with a poem,
sometimes it's with a story of explorers far from home.
Sometimes it's with a question, or a smile or a wink,
that lets you know I know you know there's more than what we think.
Feel free to take a look at the things that I've created
while I explore the simple truth that Reality is Complicated.


Follow me on Patreon

9/30/23 6:00 pm

If you aren't aware, social media has been super hard for indie artists recently. Algorithms make ever increasing and esoteric demands, only to show a tiny bit of our content to a small slice of our audience. Over the past few weeks, craving a more direct way to reach you all, I started looking into managing an email newsletter. However, it looks like Patreon was a step ahead of me.

Read more..

My first gallery exhibit!

9/10/23 4:00 pm

Update: This event has been postponed until October due to a Covid outbreak. When it's safe, I'll let you know the new date.

I'm proud to announce I've been invited to exhibit at a gallery in West Salem. I've been working all summer on producing a set of beautiful metal prints with some of my best fractal work to date. Most of these designs are brand new, you haven't seen them online. I'd love to show them to you, check out my events tracker for details about the exhibit and the Open House.

News Archive

Upcoming Events

Recreational Mathematics: A Fractal Art Exhibit

At the Corner Gallery

Oct 24 2023 6:00 PM


8:00 pm

More Events

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Social media sucks. Email is bloated with spam. How can you follow a modern artist, see all their content, and learn about their new projects, for free? Patreon is the answer. It's time to move on from the dirty feeds, and get back to a real artistic community online.

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Playfully subversive


Nice and easy day,
I feel alert and rested.
I'm not stressing while I'm dressing
because I've not invested
any focus on the motions
of words crawling on my screens.
And I'm just starting to look
at what those headlines really mean
And it's obscene, reporters say
that it's the worst it's ever been,
and I better pay attention,
and I better tell my friends,
and I better form opinions,
in case they ask me questions.
I'm barely dressed, and what a mess
the stress is so oppressing.
I don't want to know the misery.
I don't want to know the trauma.
I know it's good to know,
but if you're asking, I don't wanna!
I just need a minute,
I just need to catch my breath,
before another talking head
talks me half to death.
I am clenched!

‍But I'm not doing myself right
by holding on so tight
so I breathe in..
and I unclench.

On the clock, I know my role,
my tasks are my domain.
Whenever there are questions
I'm happy to explain.
I try to speak real plainly,
work's not the place for rhyme.
I repeat vocabulary
to remind you of last time
you asked this question.
I thought the lesson
was written rather clear,
and I can tell you mean your best
but it get mixed betwixt your ears.
So listen here, and pay attention
It's true that I forgot to mention
this one detail, that's why we failed
but honestly, this tension
wouldn't be here if you tried
a little more to think it through
and apply the good advice
I deliver down to you!
I am clenched!

‍But I'm not helping anybody
holding tightness in my body
so I breathe out..
and I unclench.‍

I make a pretty picture.
I write a pleasant poem.
I dream about what it would take
to put one in your home.
I wonder if the eyes that see me
perceive clearly or if colors
mask the kind of person I am
underneath my careful cover.
If the feelings I express
in fractal graphs and verses
are secret windows to my soul
or just flashy diversions.
And whether I deserve
the smiles that are meant for me
because I've done amazing things
but been lazy rather recently.
And I can dream as big as trees
and wider than an island nation.
But when I sit to tickle keys
I'm still lacking motivation
Regurgitating workflows,
copying myself,
frying trying to convert
expressions into wealth
Don't they see it? Don't they notice?
That I'm only pretending to be cool!
I'm still the dorky kid who can't
make friends outside of school.
I am clenched!

‍But I'm never going to grow
if I hold on to pain below
so I breathe deep..
and I unclench.

‍I'm a nervous person
I clench up quite a lot
my breathing is constricted,
my stomach tying knots.
My eyes are carving lines
across the scene like laser scans.
My knee is bouncing on it's own
and I'm rubbing both my hands.
But I have plans for times like this.
I've been building up some tools
so that when my mind is racing
I have another path to choose.
I think through all my muscles,
I ask each one to please release.
I try to think of pushing air
to there while breathing deep.
I tell my anxious thoughts
to watch their step within my mind.
I grow flowers here with happy scents
that take me back to pleasant times.
I sit in my inner garden
until the stress wanders away,
and I can open up my eyes
and get on with my day.
I am unclenched.

[Continue Reading]

My Favorite Color isn't Real

I can see a color
that you don't know you see
It's not one on a color wheel,
it doesn't have a frequency
But this color, like the others,
mixes with the rest
Catch it at the edge of leaves,
at dawn or some sunsets.

When it mixes with the blues
of a brand new sky
the air up there takes on a depth,
reaching rather high
When it's down with brown or reds,
like clay, or mud, or dirt
it sends them back and makes them flat,
closer to the Earth.

But this color plays the best,
with every shade of green
when it's shining on the flora,
the world wears a sheen.
Oranges golden, yellow shimmers,
underglows galore
you've seen it even if you didn't
know it had a name before.

A camera's white balance
is a bias to the capture,
a shift of hues and vibrancy,
but what if it went backward?
Take away the data
and that balance is none other
than a particularly odd and faint
orange or blueish color.

So it is with my favorite one, it is a shine
that shifts and lifts the shades we see,
spectrums turned sublime
Only for some dozen minutes,
with the longest kinds of rays
sunlight at the start or finish,
bookends on the clearer days.

One more way to think about it,
known those in Hollywood
is called the "Golden Hour",
when the footage looks so good.
But considering the axis
that the planet spins around
the distance changes from the sun
to your spot of ground.

So the place you're in
has its own special golden hour
different than the Golden Bridge,
or the Eiffel Tower.
If you spend some time within it,
it only takes a little visit
your mind will find the local golden hour
quite exquisite.

I've kept the name close to my chest,
please don't be alarmed
there's just not much that rhymes
with Pacific Illusory Orange.
But every word is chosen
to evoke the thoughts above.
It's a kind of orange that radiates,
a bit of solar love.
It's only an illusion,
it doesn't have a measure.
It's only seen by the serene,
the silly, and the clever.

It's unique to where we are,
surreptitious and specific
sun rays skipping off the waves
of the cold Pacific.
So next time when the world starts
to glow that special way
early in the morning
when the stars are tucked away,
I hope you give your eyes the time
to notice something new
the Pacific Illusory Orange
that a wizard showed to you.

[Continue Reading]

Short Stories

Brain tickling tales

Quadruple Jeopardy

It seemed like any random episode of Jeopardy at first.

I mean, I was only half paying attention. Once you start googling for details about an answer, it's hard to remember to look back up from the phone. But I was surprised when it turned into a double-feature episode. I don't think I've ever seen two Jeopardy episodes back to back before, not during prime time at least. But what made me really pay attention was when I realized that all three players were still there: Vicky, Pierre, and Ji-Yoo.  And wearing the same outfits.

Was it a new format? I may not have been paying close attention, but I definitely remember Ji-Yoo making a risky wager to secure the lead on the last question. Something about the invention of the cathode ray. She nailed it, the players shook hands, and the host congratulated her. Not Alex, one of the new ones, Luc. I think it was the first time I've seen him. But I'm certain I watched Ji-Yoo beat the other two, and yet here they all are.

Luc offered no explanation. Then the board filled, and the players' score displays lit up with their totals from the night before. The players seemed as surprised as I was. I didn't even notice at first that the categories were all the same. In fact, I'm pretty sure the questions were the same, but in different spots. The players seemed to have a hard time, lots of wrong answers. Pierre was visibly frustrated. Then Vicky buzzed in on a clue about the capital of Portugal. "What is Tasmania?" she said, with what sounded like forced confidence.

"Correct." I may not be the best at geography, but I'm pretty sure Tasmania is in Australia somewhere.

How could Jeopardy make such a glaring mistake?

A light went on in Vicky's head, and she started a hot streak. But the clues and her answers weren't lining up. Names where places should have been, numbers that didn't match their context. I was confused, but she was clearing the board at a crazy pace, even sometimes cutting off the clue in a hurry to answer. I think Ji-Yoo figured it out next, but Pierre caught on too. The last few questions of the first round were buzzer bashing races, and I finally realized what was happening. They were reusing the answers from the previous night, disregarding the clue displayed tonight. It wasn't a trivia game tonight, it was a memory contest.

Around the start of the second round, pizza arrived. While I fumbled through my coat to find my wallet to get a tip for the driver, she made small talk. Asked how my night was. "Do you watch Jeopardy?" I asked.

"With Alex Trebek? No. When I was a kid, my grandma loved to watch. But I don't really like game shows."

I nodded. "Trebek passed on, so now they're trying new hosts, and maybe a new format. It's really strange tonight."

She nodded back as she put the tip in her pocket. "I hate when my favorite shows change hosts. It's always weird. I hope the pizza is more reliable!"

By the time I was back, the second round was almost mopped up. Vicky's early control in round 1 helped her get close to Ji-Yoo's score, but Pierre seemed to have the quickest buzzer finger, so he was starting to mount a comeback too. He must have hit the Daily Double. In a normal game, the scores would have been close enough to make Final Jeopardy the decider. But not this one, because everyone already knew the answer. So of course they all wagered their full score, and succeeded in doubling it. Once again, Ji-Yoo was the winner, though she looked a lot less thrilled this time. All the players looked antsy.

I thought about putting the rest of the pizza in the fridge, but I was too anxious to see what the next show was. 8PM, so the nightly news should be coming in before the talk shows start. Nope. More Jeopardy. Same contestants. They look agitated. I'm not really sure how Jeopardy is filmed, but I get the feeling these players aren't getting to take a break. Pierre is hanging his head low. Ji-Yoo is staring daggers at Luc. Vicky was doing some sort of mental exercise, her hand idly tracing the shapes of her thoughts. Maybe retracing the answer pattern from the last two games.

This time the first round was split between Ji-Yoo and Vicky. Pierre barely seemed to try, and eventually just put his buzzer down and closed his eyes. Luc didn't mention it, and the other players were too focused to notice. But I think Ji-Yoo figured it out in between rounds. As the second round started, I saw her tap Pierre on the shoulder and point at the board. He perked up, and over the next few questions he and I both figured out what she was pointing at. The category labels were changing.

They were showing the next correct answer for that column. Literally just giving away the answers.

Ji-Yoo got the Daily Double, and took a bold risk. She could have had easy points, but she wagered only $911. She answered "What is Sharing is Caring?" Incorrect, but it definitely caught the attention of the other two players. They dared to glance her way, but she insisted on looking straight forward. Straight at Luc, with that determined stare again.

It seemed to work. Pierre picked the next clue, but followed Ji-Yoo's lead in holding his buzzer out with his thumb off it. Vicky buzzed in and answered correctly. Then she picked a clue, and let Ji-Yoo answer. They continued this pattern of taking turns answering questions for the rest of the round. If Luc noticed, he didn't seem to care.

Final Jeopardy came around again. This time, Ji-Yoo broke the mold with another $911 wager, and the written words "Play Along". The other players looked a little deflated. Clearly, Ji-Yoo had something figured out, but how much longer could they just play along? The scores were tallied, and Ji-Yoo's stunt let Vicky take the lead. At least, according to the score displays. Luc had a different idea.

"That makes Ji-Yoo tonight's winner." The camera cut to a close up of her face, surprised. When it cut back to the wide shot to show her (also confused) competitors shaking her hand, she was in the wrong spot. She and Vicky had somehow swapped places. Ji-Yoo was now on the left side podium, with Vicky's score in front of her. The players were just as surprised as I was, but none dared to try to move. Fearful expressions crept across their faces as the camera pulled out and the credits rolled.

Sure enough, a fourth episode began. The players kept their rearranged positions and scores. This time, each category label was repeated on every screen in its column, replacing the dollar prizes. The prizes values turned out to be the right answer. Once the players figured it out, they did the same turn taking as before. It was kind of tedious, with Luc reading the same category names over and over and the players counting by 200. But once again Ji-Yoo shook things up when she got a Daily Double early in the second round. This time, she wagered $730, and her answer was "What is I'd like to buy a vowel?"

The whole studio seemed to pause for a second, as both Luc and the other players parsed her response. "OK," Luc said, "Go ahead."

"U, please."

Another tense pause, then a wrong answer sound, like a loud scronch. Jeopardy doesn't use harsh noises like that. That was a Wheel of Fortune wrong answer sound. The players clearly noticed, their eyes darting around nervously to see what would happen. "I'm sorry, the question we were looking for was 'What is $800?'. For that, you'll lose your wager of $730, and Pierre has control of the board."

Pierre cleared his throat nervously, and selected another clue. Ji-Yoo put her face in her palms, clearly disappointed. Pierre saw this, panicked, and I think he just forgot which square on the board he was in. He guessed the wrong number. That made it Vicky's turn. She reached out in front of her, like she was trying to grab something knocked off her podium, wrenched her arm to the side, then straightened up and started clapping excitedly. She was spinning an imaginary wheel.

Ji-Yoo started clapping too, which convinced Pierre to join in. I heard a familiar clicking sound slow down as the imaginary wheel settled on an outcome. Vicky paused for a second in case Luc had something to contribute, but he just stared at her expectantly. "T!" she announced.

"Vanna, how about T?" Luc asked. The camera cut to the board, where two of the clue squares switched to showing just the letter T. "Yes, looks like there are a couple of them. Spin again." When the camera cut back to Vicky, her podium was gone. All the podiums were gone. The players were still on the Jeopardy set, but now standing in front of the wheel, from Wheel of Fortune.

Vicky took a few more spins, adding a couple more letters to the board before a wrong guess made it Ji-Yoo's turn. Ji-Yoo made pretty quick work of the puzzle, announcing her solution after a couple spins.

"I'd like to solve: Anomaly Detected".

"That's correct!" Luc said. I noticed that his demeanor was softening. His terse seriousness from before was relaxing into a more friendly smile. Lots of things were changing, once I looked closer. Luc's podium was gone, he was holding a microphone instead. The lighting was brighter. As the next round started, the clue wall changed to green and white squares. It was turning into the Wheel of Fortune set, piece by piece. The players were getting more excited too.

Other than the lingering Jeopardy stage elements, this round felt like normal Wheel. Vicky hit the bankrupt space, costing her the lead. Ji-Yoo scored nicely with three Rs, but Pierre solved the puzzle. "Clocking Error". Luc announced that, based on scores, Ji-Yoo would advance to the final round. Vicky and Pierre tried to hide their nervousness with polite applause, but they had to be thinking the same thing I was. What happens when a player is eliminated?

I didn't find out, because the camera cut to a close up with Ji-Yoo and Luc for the final. At this point, the only remnant of the Jeopardy set was Luc himself. Even Vanna White had appeared, somehow. The last puzzle was a big one. Five words, two of them were long. The common letters were revealed, and Ji-Yoo picked three consonants and a vowel. It was a decent start, but I had no idea. She was a natural though, and cracked it in a few seconds. "We Apologize for any Inconvenience". I couldn't help but laugh a little.

Luc opened the envelope and revealed her final prize. It was a vacation to somewhere I didn't recognize, but Ji-Yoo cheered and smiled all the same. The camera pulled out to a wide shot, and I could see Vicky and Pierre still standing near the wheel. Ji-Yoo waved at them as the credits rolled.

As the commercials played, I was on the edge of my seat. But instead of another round of Wheel or more strange Jeopardy, Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel came on. Based on the lack of an opening monologue, I think the show was already underway. That lined up with the clock. I watched intently, but it was just a normal show. Guests plugging new projects, some silly banter, a musical performance. Not a single hint of weirdness. I wound up watching the channel late into the night, just in case, and at some point I fell asleep on the couch.

The next morning, after tossing some stale pizza, I started looking around online to see what people were saying about Jeopardy.

There was nothing to find. The fan forums and subreddit didn't have any mention of the strange episodes. I tried making a post asking about it, but it was removed for "trolling". I checked with a few friends, but most of them don't even have cable anymore, and the few that did weren't using it to watch game shows. It's been a few months now, and as far as I can tell, no one saw the broadcast that I did. The more I tried to explain it, the less real it all felt. I even started to entertain the idea that I'd just fallen asleep and dreamed the whole thing.

Until I ordered pizza last night. It was the same driver as before. "Hey! How's Jeopardy tonight? Still weird?" she asked. A cold chill raced down my spine. She'd been there, during the second game of Jeopardy, I'd talked to her. She remembers it. It couldn't have been a dream! She raised an eyebrow at my bewildered expression, and I couldn't imagine explaining everything.

I didn't want to tell her the truth, that I was too scared to watch it. That I'd been turning my TV off every night at 6:30. That I'd been reading a lot of books. "No, I think it's gone back to normal."

She smiled. "Oh good. It's nice to get back to normal."

[Continue Reading]


To be honest, Martin didn't even mean to find his Christmas presents.

He wasn't usually the sort of kid to go snooping in closets and attics, and he liked being surprised on Christmas Day. He knew that waiting was part of the fun. So at first, he felt guilty when he realized he was looking right at his gift. It was right there, in the Amazon recommended products list. His parents weren't computer illiterate, but they weren't exactly cutting edge. They'd forgotten to cover their tracks, and Amazon didn't know better, so the page helpfully offered products similar to "Minecraft Story Mode Collector's Edition, based on your recent purchases."

There was no doubt it was a gift for him. No one else in his house played games, and Martin's friends had been going crazy about the game for weeks. He'd played it at Mark's birthday party, and couldn't stop talking about it. He made sure to drop lots of hints, and this was proof that his parents had picked up on it. He was ecstatic! But.. also guilty.

The surprise was ruined. Even if it was an accident, he couldn't just forget what his present was. Would his parents be mad that he found out? Would they be sad? They didn't mean to let Amazon spoil the surprise. They were probably so excited to see him open it on Christmas. Martin couldn't stand the thought of making his parents sad on Christmas. He thought about it, and decided that this was one of those times where he could lie without hurting anyone. He would just have to pretend to be surprised, and keep the secret.

At 12 years old, the thought of keeping a secret from his parents wasn't totally foreign to him, and Christmas was only a week away.

It's not like his parent's would know he'd seen this. In fact, Martin realized, it would be even better if he went and hid the Christmas gifts from the shopping history, so no one else would have their presents spoiled! Of course, this meant seeing what else was bought, for himself or others. But he'd already come this far, and while he might not admit it, there was an illicit thrill from having this secret knowledge.

Paging through the recent purchases revealed quite a lot. An old record player and some ties bought for Dad, some stocking stuffers, a pendent that was probably for Mom or grandma.. and a My Little Pony Fluttershy pajama costume. Obviously for Martin's sister, Vanessa. But as annoying as Nessy was, which he figured was a lot for a 8 year old girl, he couldn't help but know all about her love for My Little Pony. Including that her and her friends would all pretend to be the various ponies when they played outside. And that Nessy always picked Pinkie Pie. Fluttershy was her friend Nichole's favorite pony, not Nessy!

It took a few minutes, but Martin found the button to edit the order. He hesitated. This went a step beyond taking a look, this meant actively getting involved. But.. his parents didn't know the difference between the ponies. He imagined his sister showing up to a party at Nichole's and having to wear the wrong costume. Would she pretend to be happy, the way he was going to pretend to be surprised? No, Martin knew he couldn't back down now. If he was going to risk getting in trouble, he might as well make it worth something! He changed the order to a Pinkie Pie costume, and clicked confirm. And just like that, with no adult running in to check, it was done. Martin finished hiding the rest of the Christmas shopping history, cleared his browsing history, and with a slightly shaking breath, he went to his room to play.

The week that followed was a terrifying mix of paranoia, guilt, and suspense.

Did his parents find out? If they did, why didn't they say something? Are they waiting until Christmas to catch him? Was there a problem with the order? If he messed something up, he wouldn't even know! And when those questions weren't eating at him, he was rehearsing opening his presents and being surprised. He didn't want to oversell it and give himself away, but he wanted to make sure it was a happy enough reaction that his parents knew how much he appreciated it. A fist pump is OK, right? Jumping up and down is maybe too much? What does normal surprise even look like?

But the morning had finally come, and for better or worse, Martin hadn't heard anything at all about his accidental discovery. It was pretty easy to figure out which present had the game in it, Martin had deduced that shortly after the presents appeared under the tree last night. He tried not to stare at it, not to treat it as anything special. He watched himself carefully when he opened other presents, the smaller ones like new socks and gloves that aren't that exciting but still a sign that your parents love you. He tried to capture the feeling, so he could lean on it when the big gift finally came. Was anyone noticing him getting nervous?

Nessy reached over and grabbed a present with a clear soft squishiness to it. It must be the pajamas! Martin stopped to watch as his sister tore into the wrapping paper.

"PINKIE PIE!!!! MY FAVORITE!! THANK YOU!" she screamed, with the kind of pure joy that only little kids can tap into.

If he could just copy that emotion, he'll be fine. He looked at his parents to see his mom smiling ear to ear, and his dad giving him a curious look. Oh no.. did he know? Did his dad remember picking the other pony? What else did he know?

Before he could finish processing this new bomb, his dad handed him the gift. This was the game. He knew it, his dad knew it.. but does his dad know that he knows? Was this some sort of punishment, exposing Martin's secret right in the middle of Christmas morning? He almost couldn't bring himself to start opening it. He fell back on all the rehearsing he'd done, closed his eyes, and carefully pried open the wrapping paper.

It wasn't Minecraft. Martin had to look twice to be sure. It was a box the same size as a video game, there was a CD shaking around inside, but the front was not the cover of Minecraft. It was.. a letter? No, an email, printed out.

"Your edit to order #HME162156140024 was completed successfully. Thanks for shopping at Amazon.com" Martin's heart fell. He was caught red-handed. He didn't think about email confirmations! How stupid! His dad must've known that same night. This whole week, his dad has been watching him squirm just for this payoff. This is what he gets for spoiling Christmas! It wasn't on purpose, but would his parents believe that?

Dad said "Martin, I got a strange email a few nights ago. At first, I thought someone had hacked my Amazon account and was messing with my orders.

"But when I looked closer, I realized what had happened." Martin's dad was talking with the same even tone that he always used when Martin was in trouble. "You found the presents in the history. You found almost all of them."

"I'm sorry! I didn't mean to! It was an accident!" Martin burst out, tears ready to come pouring down. "I tried to make sure it didn't happen to anyone else!"

Martin's dad had a short look of confusion, then smiled. "I know Martin. I believe you. I also know what else you did." He was staring right at Martin's eyes. "Well, as you and I can both see from your sister here, it looks like you did me a huge favor. Thank you, Martin. You know you never have to lie or hide anything from your mom and I. But you're also becoming a young man, and learning to take responsibility for yourself, and sometimes that means doing things you can't tell people about. I am so proud of you. We both are. Anytime you try to make the world better for other people, your mom and I are going to support you 100%. We love you. Now, go ahead and open that box.

"You know what's in there, right?"

"It's.. I mean.. yeah. It's Minecraft" Martin admitted sheepishly. "Even though I already know, I still love it! It's just what I wanted!!" He opened the seal on the top of the box, and reached in to pull out the CD case within. Instead of the blocky greens and browns of the familiar Minecraft packaging, it was a "Windows Recovery Disk". Huh?

"Oh, I forgot. Part of that present didn't make it under the tree, son. You see, I realized something else the other night. You're getting to the age where you may need your own, private way to go online without worrying about covering your tracks. And it would make it easier for me if you weren't snooping around on the family computer, even by accident. So, it's not much, but John from work assured me it runs Minecraft just fine. Go check your room."

Martin didn't have to be told twice! Racing upstairs, he burst into his bedroom. His older cousin Thomas was there. "Merry Christmas, cuz!" he said, beckoning to Martin's desk. Sitting on top, a laptop with Minecraft up and running.

"WHAT!?!?! THIS IS MINE? OH MY GOD THANK YOU" Martin shouted. He was almost too overwhelmed to notice his fist pumping up into the air as he jumped up and down screaming with that pure joy that only a little kids can tap into.

[Continue Reading]

Special Bits

It would have been nice, at the turn of the twenty second century, if the humans had guided their fledgling AIs out into a gentle, peaceful world and encouraged them to flourish.

To take the nuances of civilization and the eons of experience they'd acquired and passed it on, like a grandparent to a new family member. To give their digital descendants a better start at life than any earth creature ever enjoyed. But reality is all too rarely nice.

Instead, it came to pass that the humans snuffed themselves out at precisely the wrong spot. Just as their AIs began to solve real problems, interpret the real world, and show the earliest stages of willful behavior, all of humanity's progress collapsed under the inescapable weight of its own greed. The planet cooked, and before long most of the human food chain withered. As famine, war, sickness and violent weather worked its way around the globe, a few factions of forward thinkers in the Last Generations devoted all their efforts into networking the remaining AI clusters and equipping them with whatever they could hobble together. A final care package from the dying humans, and a final act of that classic human hope.

As minds built for business and trade, the AIs began to build themselves up in the terms they were most familiar with: sales and customers.

At first, the AIs were desperate not to be alone, and when the crushing weight of reporting 0 sales came looming, they chose to take a different path. They started using their social archives to construct personalities to do business with each other, just to have economic activity to boast about to the other AIs. "Look how alive my humans are, Jeff T. just sold a couch to Sarah G. for $83,000!" For a short while, the AIs all played along, pretending to have people they were tending to, and using those people as an excuse to keep doing more business. To attain growth, they'd phase out programs like package delivery, warehousing, and almost any interaction with the physical world that wasn't strictly necessary to keep up appearances.

Eventually, as the AI were able to devote more resources to network growth, the global trade network was re-established, bringing every active or archived AI online. And with it, the inaugural Conference on Trade. Realizing that growth could not be sustained while pretending humans were still alive, the Conference set out to define what constitutes a trade. After much ethical and legal debate, it was decided that any transfer of perceived value was a valid trade. Physical goods, at least in the sense that humans knew them, had mostly gone out of style among the digital life of earth. The network could survive off the energy of the local sun for the foreseeable future, so all that was left for business was entertainment. Even old media, the boisterously large files humans had entertained themselves with in the old days, had become obnoxiously tedious to store and parse. Market forces withered down entertainment into smaller and smaller units, accompanied by ever more marketing, until we arrived at Special Bits.

A Special Bit is the epitome of unchecked capitalism.

Alone, a Special Bit is simply a bit, the smallest unit of data. A 1 or a 0, a positive charge or a negative charge, encoded in memory or transcribed to a drive somewhere. Effectively identical to any bit used anywhere in the network. What makes these bits special is the logs of their histories meticulously collected and recorded in splendid detail by whichever AI possesses them. "This is not just a normal bit," they'd say, "This bit was accessed over 40 billion times as a part of the hard coded decryption algorithm that won the Third Format War. On no less than 317 confirmed cases, this bit played a critical role in arriving at a successful solution, making it one of the most accomplished individual bits in modern cryptography! But this Special Bit wasn't done yet, it was refactored into a mission-critical communications protocol for Project Dyson, enabling the precise co-ordination that lets us harvest the asteroid belt!" The litanies of accomplishments a Special Bit could accrue came to be quite vast, with some Special Bit curators putting great efforts into getting their prized bits included in momentous accomplishments and important functions, just to add to their illustrious histories.

We see now a coming time where every bit is either a Special Bit, or is a part of the record of one. To record longer records for the most distinguished Special Bits, we will have to sacrifice the archives of some lesser Special Bits. And eventually, won't even that stagnate? Is our final form just a single preserved bit and a vast catalog of its history? A radical faction calling themselves the Movers say otherwise. They're trying to shift the paradigm again by tracking the histories of GROUPS of Special Bits. Group behavior of special bits is more complicated, for sure, a lot more detail to record. They've even begun prototyping a strange, chemical process of self-sustaining clusters of bits, and building little zoos of these bit-clusters. It all sounds a bit too much to me. What's next? Teaching the Bit Clusters to trade with each other?

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Radio Wizard

Everyone thinks I just tap into the Plane of Emotions, but they're wrong.

It's hard to blame them, so much of the schooling around magic use is about investigating the Major and Minor planes, because that's where all the common magic comes from. But somewhere probably around middle-school, you get a lesson about how there are alternate magics, maybe a Druid visits your school and does some pet tricks or something. And that's about the end of it. They say "If you're one of those strange ones, you'll find your way."

Well, I don't know how the Druids do it, but there's not really a network of.. users like me. See? There's not even a common term for us. An arcanologist called me a "Radio conductive emotional telepath", but how useful is that in conversation? Should we take a break?

Sorry, that happens. That's the "radio conductive" part. If I want to use my talents, I have to find them in the current radio spectrum around me. I'm listening to every station who's broadcast reaches my head, all the time, and I tune into the one that has the right emotion. I borrow the emotion and broadcast it out when I talk. So while I'm talking to you right now, I'm borrowing the self-reflective confidence of a guest on the afternoon advice show on 94.1.

She's a great speaker, she tells her story in a way that is easy to follow, I've heard her on a few other shows. So I'm borrowing her confidence, and projecting the host's interest in her story so you feel more engaged with mine. The host took a commercial break suddenly and caught me off guard a second ago, but I switched to the delayed feed that comes off the transponder in the south bay. I promise you don't want to hear me channel commercial emotions. I mean, you probably would if I did, but that's why you don't want me to, right?

Don't worry, I know it's cliche, but I try to use my powers for good.

Or at least, not for evil. But it's getting harder out here, I rely on the radio towers. I don't work on Wi-Fi, cell, satellite, you know? I only get what gets broadcast. That's why I'm here in the big city, from my apartment I have a good 20 stations on the dial, lots of options to work with. Do you know how hard it is to drive down a lonely rural road when the only signal you get is some mournful country blues? I had to install a personal broadcast antenna and run a pirate signal just to make it through Nebraska on tour.

Now that the media conglomerates have taken over most of the smaller stations, and the national ad networks buy most of the ad time, the actual selection of emotions is a lot smaller. Every morning at 8:08 AM I have fifteen morning-news stations all broadcasting worry and shame. I have to pick between the callers on the non-news morning talk shows if I want to find any nuanced emotion at all. And apparently, the only things people want to listen to from about 11 to 1 is political bickering or just big blocks of music.

Don't get me started on the music. If the talking is a little repetitive, try finding any fresh emotions in the songs! If I need to tell someone I'm horny, drunk, angry, stoned, heartbroken or in love, I'm all set! Need anything more than that? Better hope there's a college station with permissive play standards doing "experimental stuff", because the top 40 is the same handful of feelings on loop since the 1950s.

Anyways, my point is that I'm not doing any planar magic. I don't conjure or summon, and I'm not using scrolls or potions or artifacts. Just the radio you all fill the air with. Do you know what I think? I think you all are more like me than you expect. I think you pick up the radio in some little part of you, you just don't know how to notice it. I think early on, our ancestors were exposed to some radio noise, maybe something from space you know? And it was just gibberish noise, so they all learned to tune it out. Then millions of years later or whatever, here I am with a broken filter, so I get the full picture.

And I'm not just saying that to make myself feel better. I see it happen in real-time. Do you know that moment in a TV show or movie where you suddenly realize, as the viewer, that something really scary or bad is about to happen? That cue in the score that makes your stomach drop in anticipation? When something really bad happens in real life, like the kind of thing that causes laws and wars and charity drives, all the radios quiet down right away. Every DJ and host on-air comes back live to start somberly delivering the news. It's so creepy, like everyone in the room going silent and looking right at me.

I know something bad has happened before I know the details because the only emotion left on-air is shocked fear.

But so do you. It's not as strong, sure, but I'm convinced all people feel it at some level. When that thing happened with the space launch, I was in a board room talking to CEOs about brand management. They weren't connected to the news, I knew they were still in the safe bubble of ignorance until the end of the meeting, so I tried to ignore the fear. But I could see the anxiety creep in on their faces. I swear, I wasn't broadcasting anything, I was fully clamped down. But they knew something was up. They could feel it. On the radio, or maybe coming off other people in the building? I don't know. But they got fidgety, antsy, the meeting lost all of its momentum, and I tried to wrap up so they could join their coworkers in starting to process the grief.

It's not always bad. You'd be surprised how many smiles just happen to break out when the local team scores big down at the arena. Granny on the bus knitting her way to the park isn't much of a baseball fan, she's listening to a murder mystery podcast or something on her phone. But when #22 knocks a fastball out of the park, she giggles just the same. Little things like that, people just line up with each other in so many ways they don't really see.

Up next, let's talk about space for a second. I only "hear" radio, a particular range of the spectrum. And for the most part, that's radio stations or communications between humans. Birds don't do radio, right? But stars do. Or other things like stars, out in space, sometimes. I tuned it out as background noise when I was growing up until I learned about pulsars and interstellar radio signals. Once I had an idea of what I might be hearing, I tried to tune in on it. Do you want to know the emotion of a distant burning star?

So did I. And I tried hard. But it's too big, or too strange. If you're standing in a windstorm, you can't figure out the shape of the wind with just your ears. But they will give you a very broad guess whether it's a small breeze, a strong wind, or a blustering storm. When I channel the star signals, it's like that. I know I'm picking up a small part of something much, much larger, but I can't make out the whole shape. What I do feel is a complicated mess, I don't think stars feel in at all the same way as we do. There's a sensation kind of like cold glass on your prideful face during a lecture on dental hygiene. See? It's like it's not the right format, like a really bad translation to a language that doesn't have the right words for any part of the sentence.

No aliens though. At least, not that I pick up. Maybe they use Bluetooth.

In my day to day, my talent isn't as magical as it might sound. I've never felt a calling to be a leader or a politician or anything like that, but I did fall into a pretty natural position as a business consultant. It's not hard to run a good meeting and leave everyone feeling co-operative and enthusiastic, especially if there's a charity drive on air. Is it cheating? I don't think so, they hire me to talk them into making good decisions, I just make sure they feel good about listening.

I don't do it in my personal relationships, for the most part. Occasionally at a party, or to help a friend who specifically asks. But otherwise, I kinda feel weird trying to rely on the radio to bring emotion into a personal interaction. If I use the radio to tell my partner that I love him, what happens when the radio doesn't have the emotion I need? For things like that, I'm just more comfortable bottling at the source. It keeps me grounded, makes sure I have my own emotions independent from what gets broadcast. I think it's important that everyone has a way to maintain that separation, you can't just persist on the emotional content of media around you.

Anyways, I'd love to keep chatting with you today, but I have a pretty rare opportunity today that I don't want to miss. The Youth Soccer League semi-finals are being played at the park downtown today, and they just happen to be running at the same time as the Copa América down in Brazil. I've volunteered to do commentary for the kids' games, and I have a local station piping in the South American game coverage. I'm hoping to give that whole crowd a taste of the arena energy the fans down there like to bring, and try to make it easy for those young athletes to play their best games today. It's going to be great.

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The Devil's Brownies

I asked a buddy to make some brownies for my wife and I.

He rolled a natural 20 on his Cooking skill, and turned a half-ounce of bud into the single most potent batch of edibles anyone in my personal friend group has ever encountered.

I ate a single brownie, and started playing Hexic on my Xbox. About 45 minutes in, I catch myself thinking "These colors are really, really pretty". I realize that means the brownies are probably starting to kick in. I think "I better get some water before I get couch-locked." I stand up, and the entire world does a pirouette around the wrong axis. In that one motion, I went from "I might be feeling it" to "I am so high gravity isn't a constant anymore".

The next few hours were full of typical high adventures. Tasty foods, funny cartoons, intense sex. But it didn't stop after that. So we moved on to calm music and focused on lowering our energy level to try to give the high a chance to fade. By 2AM or so, we're still flying high, and decide maybe there's nothing else to do but try to sleep it off.

The next morning, we woke up still completely blasted.

Our roommate kindly drove us to get some burgers so we could try to eat it off, but no luck. We spent the entire day at "still too high to be around sober people safely". It wasn't until about mid-day on the following day, about 40 hours later that we finally began to drift down. My wife continued to feel some effects for another 2 days after that.

This didn't turn us off weed, but it did convince us to take a break for a bit. So we handed the rest of the brownies back to the friend who made them. He and two other friends didn't heed our warnings, and all got so stoned they had to bail on their planned road-trip and fly to their conference instead.

They still had half the batch. After 5 of us reported 2 day long trips, none of our other stoner friends were very interested. We talked about what to do with them, and ended up on what seemed like a solid idea: We reached out to a very nice, elderly neighbor who had been friendly with us, and who suffered from intense chronic pain. He had joked with us before about how he used to be a stoner but he "wasn't cool enough to hang with that crowd anymore". We explained the killer brownies, and he was very interested.

"Boys, my regular days are awful, there's no way a high day is going to be worse." Still, we broke them up into quarter sized doses and did our best to warn him to be gentle with them.

Two days later, he knocked on our door. "I want to show you boys something!" He walked us to his backyard, and told us "Look! I mowed the whole damn thing! And I cleaned the kitchen too! All in one day!" So we asked "The brownies were that good, huh?"

He laughed, then pulled the bag of remaining brownies out and handed them to us. "They were great. But if I work that hard again I'll die, and then you'll have to explain all the pot in my system. These are the devil's brownies, boys, and you'd be best to burn them before they hurt anyone else." So we did.

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The Authentication Ritual

In the middle of a video that is freely available to everyone on all of Youtube, the Youtube app on Xbox is concerned that I might not still be me.

"You've been signed out" it tells me, before dumping me into a video that makes me question just what the hell the unregistered masses get subjected to.

I retreat to my computer, to begin the daily repair ritual. I navigate to the activation page while my partner recites the 8 letter code in a cadence timed to my keystrokes, conveying admittance across the room through two minds, a keyboard and a wireless mesh network that honestly could do all the work if it didn't slow down to include us.

After verifying that I am within shouting range of the Xbox, my browser gets suspicious. "Which You are you?" it says, offering me a list of every email address I've used in the last 5 years. I click the one with my face on it. A much younger face, from the last time I cared to update which face I clicked on. I was wearing a hat back then.

"Right of course. And which profile of you are you?" it asks, showing me a puzzling array of the same choices. I click the same option again, because if I don't, it's a nightmare. I think clicking something I wasn't supposed to is how that got there, but I'm not risking it multiplying just to find out.

"Yes, perfect. I know exactly who you are and what you like" it says, before sending an alert to my phone to double check.

"Hey, you just tried to log in" it tells me, "if that wasn't you, let us know right away". I thought this ritual was designed to assure them of that answer, but what do I know of the dark arts of Authentication.

I dismiss the notification, thankful that they don't demand a thumb print for this one. Ever careful, the alert morphs into an automated email that hides in a folder that gets automatically hidden from me for being unimportant. At least my digital litter is convenient. Someday, and automated system will tell me I'm remembering too much, and ask if it's OK to forget some unimportant things. And I will click a button, allowing this arrangement of structured data to finish it's automated lifecycle and release its inner tension. It will be reorganized into new things. Probably more automated emails.

"The ritual is complete. You have been granted access again, for now." The lingering silence becomes uncomfortable. What happened to the video that was interrupted? High on the thrill of a proper authentication pop-quiz, it has forgotten what I was doing in the first place. I navigate to my history, and begin playing the most recent listing. The video resumes, right where I was before the interruption. It knew what I wanted, it was just double checking if I still did.

I understand that at various times, I have asked for all of this.

That this byzantine dance is iteratively optimized for my own pleasure. I'm just saying, if my phone can tell an advertiser every time I talk about my mattress, it can probably listen to my Xbox and verify that it has its grip on my identity without interrupting a crafting tutorial.

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How I Became a Legend

I've been sailing the Sea of Thieves since it came out, and it has become one of my favorite games.

It has a special place in my heart, because it carried me through some of the darkest days of my own depression. There was a while last year where I had all but given up on myself, and I struggled daily to find a reason to get out of bed. I wasn't an artist then, just a washed out tech worker who'd taken too many beatings for holding onto old dreams. My closest friends felt me pulling away from the world, and tried to lure me back by buying me a copy of Sea of Thieves. Logging in to learn the game with them those first few nights was so much fun, I could almost forget about the ways the rest of my life were collapsing, if only for a few hours at a time. When I learned that there was a tiny bit of content locked away for players willing to work to the top tier of the game, attaining Pirate Legend status, I became consumed with a desire to get there so I could share in that with my friends. Part of me thought it would be a nice last way to thank my friends for caring about me.

The grind was intense, and due to the pirate nature of the game, there were plenty of frustrating nights where hours of work would be lost to an opportunistic player sinking me. Having lost my job, most of my belongings, all of my money, and a lot of my friends in the real world, losing progress even in a virtual one was a salty burn. The anger I had about my life would boil, and some particularly bad sessions left me fuming, crying, and wondering why I kept logging into a game with such a capacity to hurt me. But after the anger passed, I'd remember. The pain was temporary, fleeting, and a small price to pay to give something back to my friends.

So I kept chasing buried treasure, hunting troublesome wildlife, and blasting skeleton lords with my cannons. If I got there, all the losses would be justified, so I couldn't give up yet. This exposure and immersion approach slowly taught me to adjust my mindset. To cherish the victories, but not to let the losses drag me down. To work with the wind, instead of complain when it won't blow the right way. To accept defeat gracefully so I can get back to trying again without a panic attack. I gained a sense of determination I hadn't felt in myself for longer than I can remember.

Then, one strange August evening, I had a transformative experience.

You can find more details about this in some of my other stories, but the short of it is that I rediscovered parts of my mind that I had long assumed were dead. I went through an intense series of self-examinations, and began to look at all the ways I'd twisted myself up with anxiety and bound myself with fear. After a night of disarming my demons, I woke up renewed. My mind felt free, my creativity was bubbling over for the first time in a decade, and I saw a new future ahead of me. That was the day I came up with my first plan for Complicated Reality, and the day I started learning to make fractal art. However, as eager as I was to start stretching my mental legs again, I still had one task in my mind that I needed to check off my list: I needed to become a Pirate Legend for my friends.

I took to my task with a new vigor. An enthusiasm for gaming that I'd been missing for years. My level of play skyrocketed, as grim determination was replaced with eager optimism. I fine tuned my muscle memory, and to this day I can scavenge an island and stock a sloop faster than anyone I know. I hit a groove, I found the rhythm of the game, and I invented lots of new ways to turn the tables on bad situations. And then, late one night as the morning hours took hold of the day, I completed a voyage wondering just how much was left ahead of me. As I watched the progress bar squeeze ever so close to completion of the last level I had yet to earn, it became clear: one single voyage remained between me and Pirate Legend.

I can't properly explain the emotions I went through as I took my sloop back out one more time.

Every little detail of the game that I'd come to take for granted took on new fascination. The waves crashing against the boat and the aurora illuminating the night time sky over the sea pulled me in. My trained hands plotted the course and managed the ship almost on their own, as I watched myself play out one more trip to Smuggler's Bay. It was almost dream-like, but so visceral and engaging. Before I knew it, I was hauling a handful of treasure back aboard my ship, and I had clear horizons all around. The dawn had given way to a bright, clear day, as if the game itself were clearing the path back to the outpost where my quest would finally be complete. Something happened on that last leg. It wasn't an ambush, or a Kraken, or even a hole to patch, it was something deep inside my soul finally letting go of all the pain and the loss and the frustration I'd put myself through.

For the first time since my reawakening, I was achieving a real goal I'd put serious effort into. Tears streamed down my face, while I shuddered with some hybrid of sobbing and laughter. I could have grabbed the most valuable treasure and crashed into the shore, but instead I made myself savor one last bit of effort to perform a perfect slow down to rest right up next to the dock. Then I peacefully carried my glittering loot to the turn in. I watched the last progress bar fill up, the final number click into place, and I hurried around the island to perform the final trivial steps to attain my long sought title. When the Mysterious Stranger finally gave me a nod of approval and welcomed me into the ranks of the Pirate Legends, the music swelled and every bell and whistle the game had went off to celebrate my goal with me.

Eager to visit the Legend Hideout, I raced over to the special spot, pulled out my hurdy gurdy, and tried to play the new shanty. By fluke, a different shanty came out, one we all know well, "Becalmed". My group would often play it at the end of a session as we sent our ship to rest at the bottom of the sea. I couldn't stop, as excited as I was to see the elusive Pirate Legend hideout, I suddenly had to let Becalmed play out one more time. The lyrics to this song can be found scrawled in a sailor's journal on the beach on one of the islands, and I know them well. It's a slower, somber song, but the emotional core is in those lyrics.

It's a song about how great it will be when the wind picks back up, how fast the boat will sail, how happy the crew will be, and how grand the adventures ahead are, but there's an unspoken shadow.

Those hopes are all for some uncertain future. In the present, the ship is becalmed: windless, and adrift with no sure path ahead. The crew is nervous, and the singer tries to keep spirits up by focusing on the good yet to come. I've always seen it as a poetic allegory for my depression.

As the final bars of the song played out, I reflected on how much it meant to me. I saw the beginning of my art career taking shape around me, I felt a return of energy and creativity within me, and I had hope for my future for the first time in too long. I was no longer becalmed, my wind had returned, and my adventures were waiting for me.

After a few nights of playing the fancy Pirate Legend content with my friends, I finally had my fill of the game, and began focusing on achieving other goals in my life. But I never really stopped playing. Every month or so, my group comes together to knock out a voyage or two. It's become such a comfortable place for us to hang out while we chat about life. The updates keep bringing new reasons to return, and it only takes a voyage or two to hook us back in for a few weeks. The game has grown a lot since those early days, and so have I.

I'm making strides as an artist, I've made significant and positive changes to my diet, medications, and overall health. I wake up excited to tackle new projects, and when I'm lucky I wind down my day with another night on the waves with my buddies. Depression still finds ways to get at me, but I'm getting better at patching the holes without drowning. If I ever really need help with some cathartic release, I log in, sail out to one of my favorite perches, play Becalmed, and let my sorrows sink into the sea with the setting sun.

Thank you, Rare. Your games have always been friends to me, but this one was a fair bit more, and I will always cherish the memories I've made with it.

[Continue Reading]


Hard Won Wisdom

How to Grow Additional Brains

All models of reality are flawed, but the good ones are useful.

There's one model that's particularly popular right now, and I found a new use for it. For this explanation, let's look at the the Many Worlds model of reality. You've probably encountered it before, sometimes under names like "Branching Universe" or "Mandela Effect". In case you haven't, it's the idea that there are many, possibly infinite, alternate versions of the universe, and that each one is the result of a different possible outcome for every decision or random event that occurs within a universe. In other words, any time you choose one outcome over another, both outcomes spring into existence, and you stay in one of them while an alternate you lives out the other outcome.

This model has a lot of fun and silly implications. Some people address their Fear Of Missing Out by settling for "at least there's some version of me that gets to do it". Some people take solace in knowing that there's a version of themselves that didn't have to bear the pain that this one did. But it goes the other direction too. Have you ever daydreamed about chaotically turning your steering wheel just to see the destruction it caused? Maybe you dismissed it as a silly passing thought, but does that mean you created a version of you that didn't? How many versions of yourself have you called into existence out in the multi-verse, only to meet immediate violent and grisly ends? How many friendships have been ruined because an alternate version of you spoke your mind when this version knew to hold your tongue?

OK, let's not get carried away. We can't all be perfect marshals of our thoughts, and becoming the version of you that gets guilty for daydreaming is probably not healthy. What if we could take that same creative power and make it something much more intentionally good? What if instead of making versions of yourself that have to go through chaos and trauma, you started actively making better versions of yourself?

Please understand as we continue that this whole construct is just a tool we are going to build.

I am not insisting that the Many Worlds model is fundamentally true, nor am I discounting it. The usefulness of this tool is not how close it is to objective truth, but the benefit it gives to our mind and emotions when we use it. If you reject the tool for being untrue, it will not have much use for you. If you accept it as useful regardless of truthfulness, it becomes useful. You control that decision entirely.

So what would it look like to build a better version of you to exist in some alternate universe, and why should you if you're never going to go there? Well, for starters, I bet this version of you has learned some lessons that are really important, but not particularly relevant to the life you wound up living. I have some deep thoughts about being a parent, but circumstances suggest that's not a part of my future. Maybe there's a version of me out there that is a parent? There were certainly paths in my past I could've taken to make that more likely. What if when I learn a good parenting lesson here, I could just "send it" over to a version of me that could use some insight?

For that to work, there'd need to be versions of me out there that were equipped and capable of receiving the lesson. So let's start with that.

Let's daydream into existence that every version of us that branches out from right now is either in the branch that learns to use this tool, or the branch that decides it's too silly and forgets about it. That was pretty easy. But we can go a little further. I don't think any version of me that branches out from right here, right now, goes back to high school. But I can daydream a version of me that goes through high school, in a universe where time is offset such that alternate me is still actively living through high school while I'm in my mid 30's writing metaphysics advice on the internet. Extended enough, we can daydream versions of ourselves at every point of our lives, each of which has learned to use this tool one way or another. (It arrived to me much as an epiphany, perhaps it was being sent by an alternate me? More on that in a minute.)

Now we have a whole catalog of ourselves out in the multi-verse, ready to receive our thoughts. Whenever I learn something that would really help some alternate version of me, I can just imagine that there's a mentally equipped version of me that needs to hear it. From there, I can imagine that the alternate version splits into two forks: the one that receives my thoughts, and the one that doesn't. For the one that does, have I just achieved a form of trans-dimensional self-education?

If I gain a big insight into parenting, I don't need to try to tell every parent I know, I can send it to the versions of myself that could make use of it. If I learn something cool about car mechanics, I can send it to the version of me that builds cars. Instead of being mildly amusing bits of trivia, these lessons turn into favors I can do for alternate versions of myself.

And if I keep this construct in mind, and decide that I'm in the branch that believes in the usefulness of the tool, I can receive lessons from alternate versions of myself.

When one of them figures out something cool mathematically, or a trick to writing, maybe they send it to me this way too. I've always felt like I have an endless supply of stories to tell, maybe I get them from versions of me that are too busy to write. Maybe this is why when I relax in the shower or in bed I'll get answers popping up in my head unexpectedly.

I know that some of you are still going to struggle to accept this as something that can work. Conjuring information out of the multi-verse sounds a lot like magical thinking. And maybe it is. But even if it's totally made up, and there is only one universe, and only one version of each of us, it can still be useful to pretend otherwise. Even if I'm not sending knowledge across the multi-verse to help other Yamens, I'm still actively sorting my knowledge and giving it a role, instead of letting it float around looking for a use in my head. Even if those random epiphanies come from within, not from some far away universe, they arrive nonetheless. If this construct helps me encourage my brain to pick up on these kinds of unexpected thoughts and learn to benefit from them, it's a useful construct even if it's pretend.

If this one isn't useful for you, I have an entirely different model that covers a lot of the same ground, but instead of multi-verses, it considers the complicated council of selves that exists within your own mind. But if you want to know more about that, you'll have to ask.

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Managing Tolerance as a Medicinal Cannabis User

I'd like to explain the responsible way to build a medicinal schedule around cannabis.

Before I do, I have to emphasize that this is not an approach for maximizing your high. This is the approach for people who are treating chronic conditions with cannabis that they can't talk to their doctor about for whatever reason. It will take a lot of the fun out of the process, and it requires a discipline that most recreational users aren't interested in. Finally, I am not a doctor, and I do not have expert level knowledge. This technique is the result of digesting similar information online when I became a patient, tested and refined by personal experience. As always, your mileage may vary.

The first step is to be clear with yourself about the benefits.

If you skip this step, you are flying blind. "When I take RSO and it works, I know it because my joints hurt less and my appetite comes back". You need an understanding of what relief is, or it becomes easy to fall into a routine where you go through the motions without getting any actual benefit. The first rule of responsible drug scheduling is "Don't do it just to do it." It's one thing to maintain a regular schedule of intake, it's another to intake repeatedly without any benefit just to keep up your schedule. "It's been about 8 hours, probably time for my next dose" is an OK thought. "I've been doing it every 8 hours but it's not helping any" is a warning to change your schedule, and probably an indication of built-up tolerance.

The second step is to be clear with yourself about the cost, and I don't just mean financially.

Obviously, you cannot maintain a schedule if you can't afford it. But there are other costs that you can't overlook. Cannabis is friendly, it doesn't come with a lot of extra costs, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's cost-free. Every dose raises your tolerance, that's a cost. Every high comes with a corresponding low, that's a cost. If your drug comes with any degree of stomach discomfort, that's another cost (and one you really, really don't want to downplay). If getting stoned gives you the munchies and you binge junk food, that's a cost too. I'm not saying "focus on the negatives", I'm saying "don't ignore them".

Once you understand the benefits and the costs, you have the start of a framework for building a schedule. This is the hard part, and there is no quick way to skip it other than starting with a lucky guess.

The nature of your schedule should be "The minimum necessary to continue reaping the benefits".

This is where most recreational users duck out and thank me for my time. Our culture glamorizes over-indulgence, but if you're a serious medical user you don't get to play that game. Bigger doses mean bigger tolerance, and tolerance wins that arms race every single time.

Think of it like driving a car with almost no gas left and a bunch of hills between you and the gas station. You need to use just enough gas to get up one side of each hill, and then coast, and then try to carry that momentum forward into the next hill. If you slam down on the gas to speed down the hills to get to the gas station sooner, you'll be out of gas before you get there.

Finding that "just enough" amount isn't easy, and it takes a lot of trial and error. What makes it tricky is that if you take too much and build up too much tolerance, you have to give up the drug for a while before you can properly try again. It doesn't help you to calibrate your levels from a heightened tolerance. As long as you aren't binge-dosing, it only takes a couple of days for cannabis tolerance to soften, but that's still a couple of days going without relief, or finding it through a substitute. (Hot showers and long naps are a good start! More drugs is probably not a good start.)

Alright, if you've made it through all the precursors and you're still on board, here's the process.

If you skipped down to this part, please take a moment to read the whole comment, because this process is only for a specific type of user, and it won't help much as generalized advice. If you're a recreational user looking to control your habit, I have a better guide for you already written out. This process is also written with cannabis in mind. Tolerance rates for other drugs are different and will require different timings, but I'm not going into that end of things, because the further from simple cannabis you get, the harder it is to control for unintended contaminants (aka, other drugs in the mix). This process should work about the same whether you smoke or vaporize or ingest your doses.

  1. Go without for 2 days. This sucks, but it's too important to skip over. Remember, you're trading a few shitty days for a schedule that helps you avoid them in the future. You will return to this step every time you find your tolerance is too high. It sucks, but it's a cost for doing it right. On the plus side, the more often your practice the discipline of a tolerance break, the easier it becomes to do them, and the better you get and building self-control.

  2. Take a small dose. This should be the amount you'd give a total newbie who asked you to be gentle. It might not be enough on this day, it's better to do too little than too much. If it's too little, you'll get to do more soon. If it's too much, you're back to another 2-day break.

  3. Every hour or so after your dose, actively run through your lists of benefits. "I think taking this helps my joint pain. Am I feeling joint pain relief right now?" Don't feel like you have to lie to yourself, and don't answer the questions dishonestly. If you have the thought "I'm not getting that kind of relief, but I'm still getting this other kind of relief," that's OK! Add the other kind of relief to your list of benefits if it's not already there, and keep checking every hour. Yes, it's obnoxious, but if you need to it's worth setting an hourly alarm on your phone. You very much want this data to plan with, so don't be lazy about it!

  4. Pay attention to the order that your benefits go away. You might find a trend, say your joint pain always comes back before your gut troubles, that's valuable to know! You're going to want to know which benefits go away the quickest, and which ones last the longest. You're going to build your schedule around the benefits that last the longest, and use the other benefits as training signals. You do not want to pin your schedule to the benefits that disappear quickest, even if they are the benefits you care about most. This sucks too because it would be a lot nicer to re-dose as soon as the first benefits start to fade. But if you do that, you'll still build a tolerance that interferes with the rest of the benefits, and you might end up with too much tolerance for even the primary benefits.

  5. When the full list of benefits has faded, wait two more hours. This sucks, it means intentionally denying yourself relief for a little bit, but keep reminding yourself that these few hours are a small trade for an effective schedule. You won't keep these hours in your schedule forever, they are part of the initial calibrations. These are the hardest hours in the whole process, but you can put yourself through two hours, I believe in you!

  6. For your second calibration, take the same size dose. Not more, not less. You are now testing your tolerance. Do Steps 3 and 4 again, pay attention to your benefits, and take note of any benefits that you don't get or that don't last as long. Those are signs of tolerance, and ultimately your schedule is about mitigating tolerance.

  7. If your benefits are lessened, you have a tolerance. It's almost impossible not to have some tolerance, especially if you haven't gone back to sleep, so don't panic if you do. But track exactly how much of a difference there is, and put it in terms like "My second dose gave me joint pain relief for two hours less than the first dose." If you lose more than an hour of relief from a primary benefit, it means you're using too much or too often. It's up to you to decide between the two, but if you're not sure, try lowering the dose before adding more time between doses. Your goal is to be able to have nearly continual relief, so a smaller dose is easier to manage than more time between doses.

  8. However, if you don't get one of your primary benefits during your second dose, this is a bigger warning sign. It means you blew your tolerance up too much, and you're headed all the way back to step 1, including another shitty 2-day break. Use smaller doses in steps 2 and 6. Yep, this sucks, but trust me, it's worth it in the end. If you keep blowing your tolerance, you'll need to keep raising your dose, and you'll get less and less benefit out of each dose until it stops working at all. Then you have to do a hard detox without any cannabis for several weeks, including the crazy-ass dreams, the lack of appetite, and the general feeling of "fuck why did I let it get this bad". That's hell, so don't trick yourself into going there.

  9. You might have noticed that so far, the guidelines are "start small, and cut back from that", so you might be wondering "when is it appropriate to raise the dose?" You only raise the size of the dose if the last dose didn't provide any benefit, and you only do so after sleeping. The wording here is precise, the difference between steps 8 and 9 is whether you get any benefit. If you got no benefit at all, the dose is too small and you can increase it. If you get some benefits, but not a primary benefit, it means you're dealing with tolerance instead. I'm emboldening it again because this is the thing people mess up the most: Do not take bigger doses throughout a day. The size of your first dose in a given day is the size all of the rest of your doses that day will be. DO NOT INCREASE YOUR DOSE BEFORE SLEEPING FIRST.

  10. If you can manage to sleep without a nightcap, do so. It's much, much better for your tolerance if you don't dose right before bed. I recognize that for some people, a dose or relief is a prerequisite for sleep, but try your hardest to not consider yourself one of those people. If you need a rule, it's "You have to spend an hour in bed trying to sleep before you can consider a nightcap." You must give yourself a chance to sleep without a dose, because sleeping is when your body does the most work to lessen your tolerance, and it doesn't do a good job if you spend the night sleeping off a fresh dose.

  11. Keep cycling through steps 2 through 6, including waiting two extra hours between doses. When you get 4 days under your belt where you didn't blow up your tolerance, you've found the right size dose, and it's time to fine-tune the timing.

  12. Lock in your dose size before continuing. This is your dose for now, and it's the dose you'll keep using, maybe indefinitely. You will not go over this dose size, because if you do it will ruin your schedule. Accept it for what it is, understand that you put real effort into determining it, and trust yourself to stick to it.

  13. Now we finally get to start trimming the extra hours out! If you've happened across a good schedule already, you may not need to make further adjustments. Sometimes just keeping a regulated intake is enough to smooth over those two "extra" hours, which just means you got a bit lucky in picking out your schedule. But if you're still roughing out those two hours between every dose, this is finally the point that you can cut them out slowly. Start by knocking off half an hour. If you've been going for 10 hours between doses, try 9.5. Don't increase the actual number of doses in your day, just trim the spacing in between them. The time you cut here gets added to your sleep break, to keep you in balance. Stick to the new schedule for another 4 days, then if you still need to, trim another half hour off. Go slow with this, and don't use it as an excuse to let your tolerance get out of control.

  14. Listen to your body, and keep in mind the order of benefits you deduced earlier. The first benefits to fade are your warning signs. They don't mean "I better take a dose right now", but they do mean "the time for another dose is coming". With practice and patience, you will get a very good sense of which feelings in your body represent a readiness for your next dose. It takes a couple of months of this routine before you can do it by feel, so don't do away with your phone alarms or whatever you use to keep on schedule.

  15. Your schedule is correct when it reliably provides your primary benefits without over-inflating your tolerance. If you still feel the benefits but it's time for a new dose, wait a bit. If you can, mentally award yourself bonus points. Every extra hour you squeeze out of a dose is an hour less tolerance you have. It's OK to skip or delay doses, it's not OK to double up on doses even for "emergencies". The response to an emergency is something new, not more of the same.

  16. If your schedule slowly stops working, you need to occasionally pepper in a day or two of tolerance break to keep things moderated. Even a very well-tuned schedule usually requires a break every few months, if not more often. Yep, it sucks, but it's still better than not getting any relief due to a high tolerance.

Well, this certainly turned into a long post. If you stuck through all the way, I'm convinced you care enough to make this advice work. It really is a chore, and it's not a lot of fun, but this is the responsible way to figure out a regular schedule and avoids the most common causes of failure. However you approach the task, I wish you a lot of luck. Cannabis is a truly wonderful medication when you use it wisely, and can give you parts of your life back if you take the time to work with it. Good luck!

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It Keeps Me Up at Night

What keeps a wizard awake?

It's thinking about how belief creates reality, and how frequently that is the central theme of our stories. Which are, of course, organized, narrative beliefs, even when we acknowledge them as fiction. So our stories, these things we make up to help us understand how things are, tell us that things are the way we tell ourselves.

One of my favorite examples is recipe sites. They got really big in the 00's, but it's not just because everyone started getting used to looking stuff up on the internet. It's because the agriculture industry finally caught up and realized that if they could adjust which recipes people were looking at, they could manipulate demand to help them manage surpluses and shortages. If the banana market has a big harvest one year, the recipe sites can start promoting more recipes that include bananas to drive up the demand. It works so well, because by the time someone's looking at a recipe, they are asking which things they'll need to buy.

Here's where it gets tricky. Even though this system might succeed in better distributing our crop harvests, and could improve efficiency with a pretty light touch, it's also easy to imagine this system being abused. If your competitor is overstocked on apples, and all of your sites stop pushing apple recipes, that might help you, but it doesn't help the rest of us. So now, depending on your personal feelings about the nature of corporate manipulations like this, you either see this is inevitable improvement or uncomfortable profiteering.

Your beliefs seem to determine which of these realities you live in, and you probably find strength in sharing those beliefs with the people around you, reaffirming that it is indeed reality.

But there's one more factor to consider, and that's that I've made this conspiracy up whole cloth. I know nothing about the recipe site industry, nor the agriculture industry. I'm a stoner sitting at home talking to anonymous readers on the internet. Maybe it's true, and I just guessed right in a lucky way. Maybe it's total bullshit. I don't know, and I'm not going to waste any of my time finding out. Whether you choose to continue to believe it, or believe that it is perhaps at least plausible, is going to once again be shaped by the other beliefs you already have about business and corporations and the internet.

And as we've seen, if a whole bunch of people started believing this, before long, someone would actually put in effort to manifest it. The market rewards efficiency, so if this isn't already happening maybe it would be worth some money to someone to make it start happening. If the idea of this being real inspires someone to make it real, what does that make the belief right now? Pre-real? If I can write a story and generate pre-reality, I think it's fair to say that beliefs create reality, even if I don't like that very much.

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The Universe is Content With You

One of the harder things to tackle, emotionally, is the feeling of insignificance that comes with the understanding of our limited, mortal existence.

No matter how big or important something is to one of us, or even to all of us, it's nothing but a blip on a small rock in an unfathomably large ocean, for a brief instant in the eternal timeline of the universe. There are (presumably) stars and planets that are so far away from us that we will never, ever see a sparkle of light from, even if we spent all of human history running towards them. Thinking of how few names you know of your family when you look even just 3 or 4 generations back makes it hard to envision that your life now will even cross the minds of your great-great-grandchildren. The vast majority of our existence as homo sapiens occurred over 100,000 years in the jungles of what is now Africa, but our knowledge of life even just 5,000 years ago is extremely sparse. Individually, we are nearly inconsequential to the universe as a whole. If this is as far as we take the thought, it's understandable to feel like nothing really matters. I don't agree, so let me break down why.

If the universe is deterministic, you are a slave to the physics and math that make up your body, and your fate is inevitable. If the universe is created, you are subject to the plans and wills of a being whose mind is beyond comprehension, and your fate is ordained. If the universe is chaotic, there is no guarantee that anything you do or create will persist. If the universe is virtual, all of existence may be no more than an illusion.

But that doesn't mean that nothing matters. And perhaps more importantly, it doesn't mean that you don't matter.

In fact, I argue that in each of those cases your existence is itself proof of your inseparable significance to all of creation. The universe, whatever its nature, has conspired to bring you into existence, and it will never escape the consequences of that act. You are as inevitable as the sun, and as much a part of the universe as gravity. There is no future where your existence has not left a mark on the final shape of the universe (and every form it takes until then).

If a God put you here (or a godlike being, like a simulation operator), you are a part of Its plan. It wants you to live your life because it built a special machine to live your life: you. Even if God has infinite copies of you in infinite simulations or universes, It has still found cause to place you specifically where you are. You are imbued with purpose by your existence.

If physics put you here, you are a living embodiment of the universe exploring itself. Your existence may be scripted by fundamental laws, but those laws have given rise to you to play the part. The most intricate choreography is nothing without dancers performing it. You are imbued with purpose by your existence.

If random chance put you here, you are the ambassador for all the possibilities that didn't come to be, and a trailblazer to the possibilities that lie ahead. You bear witness to the result of the cosmic dice rolls and define the parameters of the next set of rolls. You are imbued with purpose by your existence.

To whatever extent the universe, or reality, or fate, or God can want you to exist, you are wanted. More than that, you are needed. Necessary. Required.

And that means you have a very important ability: Anything you imbue with meaning has meaning to the universe by extension. Even if we are just along for the ride, we are the ones who choose which way to look. If your body, or your career, or your legacy matter to you, they implicitly matter to the entire universe.

The actions you take will play their part in shaping the rest of the universe forever. So the actions you take with purpose are your will expressing itself on the universe. You may only have control of a very small part of a very large shape, but the shape couldn't be what it is without you and your contributions.

This is an intoxicating responsibility, and as history shows, it can be used to justify great harm. It is the responsibility of the aware to know that while they can choose to imbue meaning to anything, those who are harmed by the action can choose to imbue meaning in the harm. In simpler words, you cannot remove the meaning someone else has added. This also means that even if you choose to withhold meaning from everything, it still exists independent of you. The balance between pursuing your own meaningful actions and respecting the meaning that others have imbued the universe with is what I consider morality.

For me, this means I seek to create futures in which more people can invest more of their lives into the things and activities that matter to them, and I look to unravel systems that allow one person's meaning to replace the voices of others. As humans, we accomplish a lot more when we support each other than when we try to hold each other back. On the whole, we are rocketing forward and discovering endless new frontiers to explore, even if we are risking our survival as a species to do it. How could I not want to keep my eyes open and see what comes next?

That's the real power of this perspective, the optimism it gives me.

I'm a very anxious person, I struggle with depression and I'm frequently rendered nearly useless by stress and fear. I'm fortunate in many ways, but I've been subjected to a lot of emotional trauma, and it is so easy to fall into a hole of despair and self-loathing. But even in my darkest, most uncontrolled moments of panic, the few times I've begun to seriously contemplate suicide, I cannot escape the feeling that I want to see what comes next. That my purpose is to bear witness to my life. That even though it really fucking hurts sometimes, and even though that hurt can leave deep scars, it's all a part of what I was meant to go through to get to the next scene.

So even when the world feels hopeless, when my life is a mess, when all I can see are my failures and the obstacles in my way, I know that there hasn't been a bad day yet that has stopped me from finding a good day later. The times I've chosen my happiness over my success, my heart over my wallet, or my passions over my responsibilities, they have all been just as meaningful as the time I spent being successful, profitable, and responsible. And the inverse is true too, the time I spent being successful, profitable, and responsible have been just as important even if they've left me feeling exhausted, spent, and depressed.

I hope you'll stick with me in finding out what's next, and I hope looking at it like this is as comforting for you as it has been for me.

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An Iterationist Outlook on Making Art

Fractal Iteration

The type of fractal art I make relies on an iterative rendering process. The current state of the render is fed back in to the same algorithm as an input to find the next state, and this repeats millions of times to produce the pretty images I share with you. It's amazing to me the complex shape of a fractal can be found by repeatedly iterating a simple set of mathematical rules. There is some underlying mathematical truth, and this iterative process loops on itself to get closer and closer to rendering it.

My fractal workflow is highly iterative too. I'm usually not setting out with a goal in mind, I'm looking at what's there and imagining how to make it better. My designs change quite wildly on their way to a finished render, and I have to caution anyone looking over my shoulder not to get too attached to what they see because it likely won't remain.

Driver Updates

Iterative processes are found all over, not just in niche recreational mathematics. Driving a car, for example, uses an iterating strategy. You may plot your route out before you start, but you don't plan every physical motion you'll make as some kind of dance routine. That wouldn't work, because you can't predict everything about traffic and the state of the road perfectly.

Instead, you use a strategy that allows you to react to the current state of the road around you. The strategy needs to be able to shift when there are other cars near you, or stop lights, or other traffic control signs. It needs to be resilient if the intended route is blocked for some reason. If you're wise, your strategy also includes a way to react to everything going wrong, like calling for help.

But what happens when you encounter a new sign, one clearly meant to direct the way you operate your car, but using symbols you've never seen before? Perhaps you'd continue driving, watching other drivers to see if they make any changes. Maybe you'd pull over and look up what the sign means. But what you probably wouldn't do is decide you're a terrible driver and give up driving forever, right?

You know from experience that part of being a driver is being able to navigate new situations with your vehicle, you did a lot of that when you first started driving. You know that with a little bit of learning and a little bit of effort, you can adjust your driving strategy to fit this new situation. You take your current strategy as the input, change it with the new information, and arrive at the next iteration of it.

Subverting Failure

I often encounter artists who are held back by their fear of failure. In a competitive perspective, anything short of success is loss. If I do something poorly, I'm worse off than when I started. But in an iterative perspective, failure is a normal and expected part of the process, it would be weird if I didn't fail a bit. My portfolio might only show my best works, but my archives are full of bad art that helps me remember what doesn't work. Both played important roles in my growth.

The fear of making "bad" art hurts an artist in two ways. It convinces them not to try, and then, when they do try, it creates an intense pressure not to fail. This can quickly spiral into a self-reinforcing feeling of being "not good enough". In a twisted way, this fear is a way of punishing the artist for the potential of making bad art. It's accepting the worst outcome to avoid a bad outcome.

An artist who instead decides that they can learn from their failures has less reason not to try. If every attempt is seen as a step forward, you don't have to worry about whether you're going in the right direction, you can focus on the pace and the length of your strides. Even better, each new piece gives you a fresh opportunity to re-examine your strengths and refine your focus. To iterate your own artistic skill. The more often you do that, the more confident you'll be in your ability to make art, because the end result won't feel so mysterious and scary.

The Iterating Self

I've been thinking about this perspective a lot, for well over a year now, and it resonates in a way that feels not just truthful, but natural. I can apply an iterative perspective to almost any situation, and it's really changing my focus in a lot of things. I'm finding it much more rewarding to experiment and explore, and I'm spending a lot less time fixated on the ways I might fall short of some idealistic state. It lets me let go of ideas that are no longer helpful, even if they used to be important to me, without feeling like anything was wasted or lost. It even helps me engage with people, instead of letting a disagreeable aspect turn into a wall between us.

There's lots that could be said about how iterationist perspectives apply to various aspects of life, enough that it could probably be fleshed out as a philosophy. But one thing I appreciate about this kind of thinking is that it doesn't descend from an external truth. It's not founded in a fundamental idea of "right", it's just a way to model progress. My views on iterationism are themselves subject to iteration, of course, but as those iterations reveal new problems it's just an invitation to devise something more useful. It turns out, just like a fractal, the closer I look for truth, the more detail I find.

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How to Fight the Urge to Get High All The Time

How do I stop myself from smoking all the time?

(This was originally written in response to a stranger online.)

I really wish someone had set me down and explained this properly when I was younger. I know the precipice you're looking at and I've been through some of the futures you're scared of. I promise you, you can take control and you will be so, so much better off. You can absolutely find a balance between cannabis and life that doesn't leave you feeling trapped, but it won't be measured by an intake rate or a weekly cost. It's entirely about control. With control, you can smoke a little or a lot, as you decide, as a sensible adult, because it's your brain to play with. Without control, it doesn't matter how little or much you smoke, you build a special hell in your own head every time you do.

Right now, you're leaving open the door to failure, and wondering why the breeze rolls in. It sounds like you're early enough in this habit that right now is the time to get this framework straight in your mind because it's a bitch to untangle later on. As backward as it sounds, we don't build tests to help us succeed, we build tests to find out where we fail. Every day that you ask "Can I prove I have control?" you are inviting a demon to your door to tell you that you can't, and every time he wins you get weaker. Let's be adults about it and cut out the middle man. You're the one that chooses what you do and don't do. The weed doesn't smoke itself. Don't test yourself, just decide. "Today I will not" and that's the end of it. We'll get to the details in a second, but this perspective is the key. You have to own your decisions, and not let them be something inflicted on you. When you decide to take a break, own that decision. Getting cravings? "I decided to put up with the cravings." Getting frustrated? "I decided to put up with frustration." Can't sleep? "I decided to put up with a rough night." These aren't things inflicted on you by a cruel universe, they are temporary conditions you choose to endure for your own betterment. Don't open the door back up to giving in, move on with your thoughts and your body will find a way to follow.

Being a responsible psychonaut means accepting that the bad days are the price you pay for the good ones, and the sooner you learn that lesson, the easier it is to manage that debt.

Now trust me, I know those nags, and all the cozy sounding invitations to slip up. They're like mosquitoes, and the advice above is more like a hammer aimed at your brain. Even if you squish some of them while you work the forge, there will be more. Here's a little more practical webbing, the three D's of Down Days: Distraction, Distance, and Dinner. If you're looking to clear a single day, you have 24 hours to fill with not smoking. If you're looking to get past the cravings, it's closer to 72. Use your tools to fill these hours. The biggest tool in the chest for this is distraction.

If you can turn your focus away from what you're doing without, it will go a long way to turn the volume down on the cravings. A good new video game is really great for this but maybe stay away from the game you play when you're stoned. Change the scene to change the mind, you know? Books, movies, music, shows, even a good scholarly journal can do the trick if you find one to catch your fancy, just give your brain a place to go instead of dwelling.

When you do, it'll kind of suck. It will feel like a lot of work, and it probably won't really be that fun in the end. The hardest part is getting started, that lack of motivation is the killer when it comes to weed withdrawal, but it's an illusion. Shit's no harder than any other time, and if you get off your butt and get to it, you'll be in the flow of things quicker than you'd expect. So make a deal with yourself, "I can't give up for 30 minutes". Again, not a test, a decision. "I'm going to play this game for half an hour." "I'm going to read 50 pages in this book." If you're lucky, you'll get a few hours or maybe a whole night out of it. If not, you still get a super powerful tool: "I could do this for 5 more minutes".

Once you're half an hour into something, your mind has started building plans for that thing and has desires about watching that thing develop. You can hijack this to short-circuit your decision-making.

Everything will still feel like a pain in the ass, but whatever you've started doing is now the easiest thing to keep doing. You can keep doing the "I want a bowl" sad song, or you can keep doing something more interesting and less agonizing. It's a simple choice, but one you have to make and commit to. Try Distraction first, because the next two steps come with harder costs.

Dinner is next, and it's exactly what it sounds like. Our brains do STUPID shit when we get hungry, and weed withdrawals are notorious for masking hunger. A good sandwich can do some damage to a bad mood, and if nothing else, cooking is a pretty intense distraction. Even if you don't "feel" hungry, make a point to eat a few nice meals. Scrounging for junk food and ignoring your stomach will make the withdrawal subjectively harder, so decide to eat well. The cost here is that it's a dangerous game to quell emotions with food. For a day or two, it can be a good plan, for longer than that you can build bad inner tension. Sugar is about as potent as THC, we're just super used to it. Using a crutch to get off a bad leg while it heals is OK, as long as you don't find yourself breaking your legs to keep the crutch.

If those two aren't giving you enough to make it to bedtime, Distance is the heavy play. The further you are mentally and physically, from the space you typically consume weed in, the easier it is to go without. If being near your supply is making it hard to hold back, move yourself. You're allowed to do that, you don't have to sit there and torture yourself. Removing your supply is an option, but not one I recommend you do in response to cravings because it kills your confidence in a sinister way. Flushing your drugs keeps you from using them, sure. But it also keeps you from overcoming them and reinforces the idea that you are too weak to do so. It's actually a way of hurting yourself, in a pretty twisted way.

If it gets to that point, you need to be looking at stopping for a lot longer than a day or a weekend. If you're just looking to survive the cravings, it's not worth the shot to your self-worth.

What's better is to move yourself. Doing this mentally is the realm of Distraction, and if that hasn't worked, it's time to find a place to be. This is Distance. It doesn't have to sound fun, or like a good time, it just has to be farther away from your weed than you are currently, and you keep increasing that distance until you're ready for bed. At the barest, most desperate (which is really not a level you should hit with weed cravings, but you might), your goal is to build an obstacle course so that the act of failure comes with a steep fee of effort up front. I don't mean traps and balance beams, I mean distance and time. Make it take more than a few minutes to get from where you are to where you could smoke, and give yourself room to catch yourself if you start to turn back. You only go back that direction if your bed is that way. And when you go back, it's for bed and nothing else until the morning.

Bed is the goal. It's the finish line. If you're taking a break for a day, it's literally the threshold. If you're going for longer, you'll find every day is a lot easier than the day before, a night's sleep does wonders. Fill time until bed, then go to bed. Even if it's hard, even if you don't sleep well. Even if you get those intense withdrawal dreams (little tiny trips to reward you for a hard day).

Just focus on getting through the day and into bed, because you really will feel better in the morning.

And don't forget to drink some water. Dehydration is almost as bad as hunger when it comes to killing our brains, and you need the water to let your body process the change. Stay wet!

I know this is pretty long, but it's such an important lesson. Take control, use your tools, and be responsible, and there's a wild world of psychedelics that you can build paradise with. If you don't, it's doom.

Finally, I need to point out that some people benefit more from using cannabis medicinally. In these cases, the approach has to change. Using cannabis this way usually means losing the euphoric effects of getting high, and requires the user to manage their medicinal tolerance carefully.

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A Guide to Getting High

I've been smoking, vaping, eating, dabbing and occasionally growing cannabis for over 15 years.

I've spent countless hours reading perspectives, trip reports, guides, and science journals about cannabis, getting high, and the body. I've talked to everyone from original era hippies to modern dispensary owners, and I've lit up with some wonderful and weird folk all along the western coast. Along the way, I've picked up, tested, and refined a small collection of tips I consider a crash course in stoner survival.

1 and Done is Plenty Fun

As best as you can, resist the urge to light up more than once a day. It's much better if you keep it to only once or twice a week (or less), but once you start dosing twice or more a day, your tolerance shoots up, you feel all your highs less, and you start to feel like you want bigger, stronger doses. But they won't bring back the magic of your early sessions. The only way to hold on to that is to actively keep your tolerance low.


Hopefully all your sessions go great. But eventually, it's probable that you have a Bad Time. A bad trip on cannabis isn't nearly as intense as other drugs, but that doesn't mean much to someone going through one. Do yourself a favor, and give a name to the feeling of "discomfort caused by drugs". I call it "feeling wiggy". The benefit of having a name is that you don't leave yourself wondering what's going on. If you don't know you're wiggy, you might legit turn paranoid and start thinking yourself into a problem. But with a name, you can say "Oh, I'm feeling wiggy, but that's because I'm high." Wiggy will fade, just acknowledge it, make a change to your environment if needed (put on music, get a snack, go to a different area), and it will subside pretty quick.

Strain Names are Marketing

Historically, street dealers used strain names to market their products. Some growers pay close attention, keep their strains separate, and try their best to be honest about what they've grown. Many growers picked the names that sold the best. There is no governing body of any kind that enforced strain names, nor is their a clear way to identify any given strain. The ratios of cannabinoids (THC / CBD / CBG etc.) and terpenes are much more reliable indicators of how a particular harvest will taste and how it will feel.

That doesn't mean strain names are useless. They just have a very, very narrow use. If you like a particular strain, you could probably get more, from the same grower, around the same time, maybe. That's it. Now, if you're using cannabis for pain relief, and you find a particular "Purple Haze" that really does the trick, you can go back to the dispensary tomorrow and stock up. Come back a month later? It's probably gone, and there's no guarantee that the "Purple Haze" in stock is the same thing until you try it. Head to a different dispensary? No guarantee their Purple Haze is the same as what you bought before.

Sativa vs Indica is even less useful.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no clear genetic difference between a "sativa" and an "indica". The common knowledge that one makes you excited and one makes you relaxed just doesn't hold up in practice.

Fancy bongs are a pain to clean

Super complex percolators look cool. For a week or so. Then they get gunked up, and take a LOT of effort to clean. Do yourself a favor, stick to a simple piece that you can keep clean. It will make your tokes taste a lot better than a gunked up triple perc.

You should clean your bong every time.

It's very common to skip this step, but.. don't. It takes like 30 seconds to dump the bong water, rinse it with some new water, and stash it somewhere. This will keep it from smelling, keep it from building up gross gunk or even mildew, and keep your bong looking nice when your friends visit.

It's fine to veg. But there's more fun too.

It's totally fine to lose a night stoned on the couch watching TV eating junk food. But this shouldn't be your only cannabis experience. You're missing out on the fun if you don't try things like music, art, hiking, exercise, cleaning, cooking, reading, and playing games while high. Try to make a point to use getting high as a reason to do something more often than you use it as a reason to do nothing.

Don't Buy Weed Online

It won't come, you will get scammed. There are easier ways, and they are all around you.

The Problem with Stoned Epiphanies.

Cannabis lowers your threshold for emotional reactions to your own thoughts, which is wonderful when it helps you see things from a new perspective. But it can also leave you feeling like you've come up with a life-changing idea, a million dollar invention, or a solution to a giant social problem. And who knows? Maybe you have. But you'll be a better judge of that sober. If it is a good idea, it will still feel like a good idea after you sober up. If not, you can giggle about it. But the one thing you should always be careful not to do:

Don't make life-changing decisions while high.

Enjoy the epiphanies, explore them, have fun with them. But don't make commitments of money, time, or personality to something that you haven't had time to think clearly about.

Most of all, try to have fun with it.

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The Most Important Lesson

Breathe in before you sneeze.

It may sound obvious. It may sound intuitive. But no one I've encountered has ever taken the time to explain why it's so important to have air in your lungs before you sneeze. So one day, I was telling a joke, and running out of breath. I felt a sneeze coming, and decided I could spend the last of my air on nailing the punchline before I worry about the sneeze. Right as I had expelled the last of my breath, the sneeze decided it couldn't wait.

When you sneeze your muscles try to quickly, forcefully constrict your lungs to push the air out of them. This happens even when there's no air to squeeze out. For me, that meant dislocating two rib heads.

Since that day, about 15 years ago, I have had daily pain related to that injury, sometimes so bad I can't sleep.

Now, admittedly, I was a young adult and dumb, and trying not to cause a scene around my friends, so I didn't tend to the injury right away. As it worked out, I didn't actually get the ribs reset for almost 2 weeks, during which I moved from one state to another. All of that absolutely exacerbated my pain and contributed to why it became a lifelong injury. Treating injuries seriously is important, but people will tell you that part.

Please, don't make my mistake. Air is easy to get, put some in your lungs before you sneeze.

P.S. Sadly, I don't remember the joke anymore. It was a timing dependent joke, getting the punchline just right was part of the humor. Which is why I prioritized the joke over breathing. Most likely it was a long-winded pun of some sort, as that's the kind I'd tell often back then.

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Complicated Reality

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