Daily Habits Checklist (May 15th – June 11th): A painter, who became Picasso

Another good 4 weeks and the progress I believe is starting to show, at least in private. The big gap in late May was due to a family cruise which was a great time. And all that white space on Friday May 26th was the result of a delayed flight. I suppose I *could* meditate and do back stretches while waiting at the terminal, but am averse to public attention…

My music habits have been moved to their own category. These include practicing the piano and guitar, and writing song lyrics. Thus they aren’t here, on the main list. But maybe I’ll include them in future updates. My goal is to start publishing songs soon. They probably won’t sound very good :/

Some thoughts on the habits…

Waking early: Your partner’s sleep schedule has a big impact on yours. If your sleep and wake cycles aren’t in sync, then one of you (usually both of you) will suffer. If you can’t get in sync, consider sleeping in separate beds and ignore the social stigma…? :)

Pushups: Seeking ways to “exceed my level”, in the words of Bruce Lee. In this case, eg, decline pushups

Meditate: Still remains hard, after all these years. Why?

My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.

Here’s why I track habits this way.

Thanks for reading!

2: Philly

We landed in Philadelphia after what must have been an exciting first flight for me and an exhausting one for the grandparents. As a kid I loved to fly and would always order a cup of hot cocoa to drink, not realizing then how much extra work this required of the overworked flight attendants. And as a kid that steaming mug of watery cocoa was divine. Kids create their own world and to paraphrase David Foster Wallace, it is a small and serious one. Kids see everything the way they want to see it, which is what makes them so inspiring yet so ridiculous. For child me, airplanes = hot cocoa and turbulence = a mild roller coaster. All that’s changed now of course. Adult me is too embarrassed to order cocoa in economy class as you’d get either a flat “we don’t serve it” rejection or a harassed acquiescence. And every mid-flight dip or pilot announcement of upcoming turbulence makes my hands sweat as they flee to the hardened safety of the arm rest.

Today when I think of Philadelphia I think of UPenn because my first girlfriend – my first love – went there. I think of squeezed and packed philly cheesesteaks wit wiz, of a street grimyness and art culture and a particular kind of American pride, part nativist and part clan-al, a tight East Coast us-versus-them set that is parts amusing and inspiring and foreign to my Austin and Bay Area sensibilities. I think of our apartment building pot lucks, where Chinese immigrant families gathered so the kids could run amok and the parents could chatter loudly and play rousing games of Monopoly.

We were poor, and not just grad student poor, but immigrant grad students with a young kid poor. Census poor. Like certain sections of San Francisco today, we lived in a Philly neighborhood where it was not uncommon to find your car with its windows smashed, car radio taken, or wheels replaced by cinders. My Dad used a red steering wheel lock and I always thought it looked like a ninja weapon. In fact I was disappointed when we later moved to Florida and stopped using it. Only today do I recognize the stress he must have shouldered from the very nature of having to use and think about those lack-of-trust devices.

We were poor but with a key difference: We were immigrants. Immigrants are like newborn babies, sucking at the teat of the American dream. Everyone in America is an immigrant, but the newer immigrants retain hope. Hope in the right hands is more valuable than cash. Hope made my parents work hard. Hope made them endure whatever indignities surfaced daily, helped them plan and save and worry and push until they carried us up the class ladder, rung by rung. In America, they did what they were told, and they resented it later at home.


This is one in a series of personal reflections. I’m writing them in roughly chronological order, starting with childhood, and hope to arrive at the present day. Click here to see what’s been published. Thanks!

A brief snippet of Paul Graham’s brief writing advice

His original essay is here.

A few favorites (all quoted):

  • Write a bad version 1 as fast as you can
  • Expect 80% of the ideas in an essay to happen after you start writing it, and 50% of those you start with to be wrong
  • …just say the most important sentence first
  • Read your essays out loud to see…which bits are boring (the paragraphs you dread reading)
  • Write for a reader who won’t read the essay as carefully as you do

1: America bound

Nine months after I was born in small town China, six months after receiving the smallpox vaccination that would leave my left shoulder with a bullet sized scar, a patchy circle that is the Asian Fob scarlet letter, I was left in grandparental care as my parents flew to east coast America to become STEM graduate students.

Thus I was raised in those early years by both sets of grandparents. I have always felt the deepest and easiest bond with Dad’s Dad, though of course I love them all. And three years later, I was reunited with my parents in winter Philly. There is an old colored photo of my China sendoff: carried in the arms of Dad’s older sister, surrounded by a big group of relatives and friends outside the airport terminal. I’m wearing a child’s sailor outfit and a baby resting bitch face. It is very cold outside as evidenced by the sea of red cheeks and the vapor trails of exhaled breathe. There are many faces gathered, some small, some tall, some young, mostly old, all clothed in puffy jackets of dusty blue and faded black. Familiar faces all, in the way you just know a face, but I can’t tell you any of their names or how to properly address them. And I haven’t seen most of them since I left.


This is one in a series of personal reflections. I’m writing them in roughly chronological order, starting with childhood, and hope to arrive at the present day. Click here to see what’s been published. Thanks!

A typical adult has…

…seen more lands than Marco Polo…

…read more philosophy than Confucius…

…heard more music than Mozart.

And so on and so on.

So how do we gain more of Confucius’s wisdom? Marco Polo’s curiosity?

We have already consumed so much. Taken in and absorbed and eaten more than kings and popes and most presidents.

But all of this quantity only gets us so far. Diminishing returns, that diminish quickly.

Understanding and using and mining what we already have is far harder. But it’s also far more valuable.

The easy thing to do is consume more: Read more books. Travel to more cities. Listen to more hit Billboard songs and watch popular TV shows. Go back to school to do homework and take exams. Always seeking more and new and novel.

But something tells me this is the easy part of the journey, the journey to where we want to go. It’s the part we’ve traveled many times over. Where we keep getting stuck on the same mountain pass, lost in the same valley.

But over that pass, through that valley, lies the beautiful destination. The place where Mozart composed his sonatas, where Marco Polo lived his stories, where Confucius discovered and shared his worldview.

I guess I’m just complaining that I don’t create enough. Input so much, and output so little. How do I – how do we – flip this equation? How do we make the most of the much that we already possess, of each little bit?