Evolution has other desires

Archangel, Charles Ray; photograph by Charlie Rubin

We were pushing an e-bike up Valencia, past the parking lot where I had once helped a stranger illegally rent a U-Haul, and the conversation turned to art appreciation.

J brought up Matthew Dickman’s Dear Space, and how part of her appreciation of the poem was that it felt believably autobiographical.

Believably autobiographical made it relatable, and relatable in turn felt like the author was extending empathy toward her, which made her feel less alone.

J had just written about why art created by an AI is no less valuable, so I asked, what if you found out Matthew was an AI?

Would you feel more alone?

Or - would you feel less alone?

The AI we have today is trained on a corpus of the collective works of humanity, so if an AI writes something that you find relatable, it’s like humanity, collectively, is extending you empathy.

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Tyler Hobbs, Fidenza

My New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Write every day.
  2. Volunteer every week.
  3. Get therapy.
  4. Stay single.
  5. Write an essay in Chinese.
  6. Listen to fewer words, more music, and more silence.


  1. Not perfect, but good.
  2. Started very good, currently very bad.
  3. I start today and I’m really excited about it.
  4. So far so good.
  5. No.
  6. Yes.

My New York resolutions:

  1. Join a writing group.
  2. Go to an exhibition every week.
  3. Take long walks – first avenue by avenue, then street by street – call friends along the way and start every conversation with “hope your family’s been well”.
  4. Build a speakeasy on the rooftop with furniture rescued from the sidewalks of Hell’s Kitchen (tables and chairs on Tuesdays). Name drink specials for each roommate, especially the cat. Unsubtly reference it in conversations with attractive strangers, ie. “I know a place but it’s pretty low key.”
  5. Spiral into a crisis after taking a pill someone gives me at a party because at first it feels fucking awesome why don’t I have fun like this more often maybe because the real me is too intense too weird too defective to let out in front of people or maybe because there’s always an equal and opposite crash but the crash is definitely worse if I think about it or maybe none of that is true but I’ve just believed it for so long that I’ve forgotten how to relax I’m spiraling I’m spiraling calm DOWN after I have what mistakenly feels like the deepest conversation I’ve had in my entire life up to that point with a girl with kind eyes, spend the following days asking my friends how to ask her out respectfully, have her decline even more respectfully.
  6. Get blindingly drunk, slowly, alone, in public.
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Three dates

Cao Fei, Nova

I went on three dates in one night.

I was in Shanghai for New Year’s Eve with a group of friends. I’d decided that I wasn’t going to check the apps while I was there, but a few things happened:

  1. Toward the end of the trip, people left on different flights until just three of us remained.
  2. M and B had been checking the apps, and were going on dates that final evening.
  3. I’d lost my voice the night before, and I was curious to see how far I could get on a date without it.

I sent messages to as many people as I could, explaining that I was leaving tomorrow, I’d lost my voice, and would they be interested in going on a date with someone who couldn’t speak?

This somehow worked way better than whatever my usual approach was (is), and I ended up with three dates for 6:00PM, 7:30PM, and 9:00PM.

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Time travel

A woman looks at a painting of a path running through a forest in full bloom

David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate

Having a crush is underrated, I think. I suppose I don’t know how having a crush is generally rated. Having a crush makes the moments between texts stretch out and this can be wonderful or terrible, but either way it does something to time, and I’ve always been obsessed with time travel.

I have a crush. Had a crush? On a person, but it wasn’t really about them.

I had a crush on a person I followed from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong six years ago, wandering cobblestone streets between ferns growing from the cracks of repainted walls as they told me about the meeting they’d had explaining social entrepreneurship to a manufacturing magnate in a skyscraper overlooking shimmering ships in Kowloon Bay. I can’t even remember their name, but I can’t ever smell the sizzle of rain on asphalt without thinking of them.

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I’ve been editing my last post in my head every day since I wrote it.

The ending is too abrupt, I decided. Pieces like this from good writers usually have a third act about some sociological theory that contextualizes for the story. I tapped down notes:

  • Haidt says liberals prioritize care/fairness, conservatives value care/fairness/loyalty/authority/sanctity equally
  • Low-trust world substack very good and relevant not just for thinking about America but also what I should prefer at work
  • Liberals being more neurotic (this is important right)

Then on Wednesday afternoon, a… Coup happened?

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After the election was called for Joe Biden, I stopped thinking about US politics for what felt like the first time in four and a half years.

This was a 10/10 experience, and it lasted until earlier this afternoon, when I went to a South Austin coffeeshop for Can A Fracturing America Heal? [In Person Version], one of several Meetups I’d signed up for in a surge of high spirits on New Year’s Eve.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, I’d met a girl who had made an expedition to several red states, armed with a VR camera and hoping that the interviews she brought back to San Francisco could “do some small part to heal the growing divide in our country”. Myself, I’d made comments to the effect that “going on a date with a Trump supporter” was on my Texas bucket list, but I resigned myself to the fact that Austin, like every other urban county in the United States, leaned reliably left. The Austinites I’d previously met were almost indistinguishable from coastal liberals, except with more tattoos, more stories about firearms, and more opinions about barbeque.

I was expecting more of the same from the afternoon’s event, until I approached the table and heard, “I have plenty of friends who listen to the mainstream media, and the problem is that they believe them.”

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1,792 miles

I left San Francisco, and arrived in Austin last Wednesday.

It took me five weeks to drive the first 12 miles, two weeks to drive the next 479 miles, and three days to drive the final 1,301 miles. At one time, I would have found the shape of that chart exciting, but it feels like exponentials jumped the shark just a little bit in 2020.

On the road, I listened to 2000s pop punk and Jake Gyllenhaal’s narration of The Great Gatsby. Every line in that book is its own work of art, but a new one stood out to me: What was the use of doing great things if I could have a better time telling her what I was going to do? and I nodded as I drove, on my way to attempt the opposite.

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The visa process is hell

Do Ho Suh, Home within Home within Home within Home within Home

Flip a coin.


Do nothing.


Pack your stuff, quit your job, say goodbye to your friends, and move to a city eight thousand miles away.

A little bit of background. I’ve lived in the United States for over three years, and in that time, I’ve been incredibly lucky. Few international graduates find companies willing to sponsor their work visa applications. Fewer still are genuinely excited about what they do and where they live.

So I’ve been lucky – and I’m about to test that luck by flipping a coin.

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I get a lot of questions from friends still in college. The most popular being:

“What’s life like after graduation?”


Today, there’s no running water in my apartment, no food in my fridge, and no cash in my bank account.

There are days like that.

Today, I gave a spontaneous presentation for a product development workshop at 1871, and afterwards one of the facilitators was nice enough to offer me the chance to run a workshop of my own.

There are days like that.

Today, TechCrunch wrote about us because we raised 15 million dollars and we’re moving to Silicon Valley.

There aren’t a whole lot of days like that.

“What’s life like after graduation?”

Honestly? It’s never quite what you expect.

How I got a job in America with no connections

I first wrote this piece in 2013, and a lot has changed since then. Base, the company I joined, ran out of money, laid a bunch of us off, and was bought by Zendesk. Many of the links stopped working, and I removed most of them but left a few redirects. For me.

This piece was originally published on Medium with the subtitle ‘Breaking every rule of common sense along the way’, and it was moderately popular! I still get a notification about it every now and then.

An abstract painting with geometric shapes and swirls of color on a beige background

Julie Mehretu, Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation

Six months ago, I was being herded out of Ohio Stadium after a four-hour commencement ceremony, one in a graduating class of over 10,000.

I wasn’t excited. I didn’t feel special — just unprepared, and poor.

The world of employment seemed impenetrable through the Clinton-era web design of online job boards, and I ended up deciding on something of a gamble. The degree I’d just earned would have given me far more leverage in Columbus, but I made up my mind that I wanted to move to Chicago, even though I had no idea where I was going to live, or how I was going to get there.

I had 90 days to find a job, or I would be on a plane back to Kuala Lumpur. And I didn’t know it at the time, but I was also about to be dumped by my then-girlfriend.


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