the prioritization principle
everything is a self portrait
Ever since I started taking magnesium I have been having deep, lucid dreams. The dreams are usually things I’m thinking about day to day, but more lurid, startling, dynamic. No narrative logic, only sensations. Ideas developing, widening, without edges.
I find the dream world soothing and magical because in the waking world most of my life is governed by practicality and routines. My weeks look roughly the same. I like to lift weights 3x a week. I take the packed morning bus to the Financial District. I plan my schedule on Notion, deep clean my room often, take my 10 supplements, write this substack. (Can you tell I live in San Francisco yet?)
No matter how much I regularize my life, it still feels overwhelming. Too many bodies and ambitions and hills to climb. Too many notifications and tabs and slack messages. The curse of modernization: we have agency at our fingertips, but forget the softness of the world. My computer is still luminescent as the world settles into violet dusk, the gloaming outside.
Modern prioritization is hard when there are competing needs. The need for rest bristles against the need for value in work. The need for pure aloneness vs the need to bask in another’s presence. For a while my prioritization scale was skewed: a person or idea can do that to you — become your whole world. Isn’t that what obsession is? The prioritization of one thing over anything else. Not to say I’ve been obsessed with people, but I’ve been obsessed with concepts and feelings and activities before. It’s exquisite. You wake up and want to breathe the thing, do the thing, live the thing. Over and over again, tracing a pattern into the froth.
H says when I meet someone I can tell where their priorities lie. H is sort of a sage or at least more hyper-observant than most. But I think it’s true and visible: your priorities seep out through your voice, mannerisms, and littlest actions. Chuck Palahniuk wrote Everything is a self portrait. Everything is a diary. When you care about something it becomes fairly obvious to everyone else. When you care, your devotion or discipline is directional. Most people can intuitively feel it.
It makes sense, then, that what attracts me to people is their principles: those who have strong values and do not falter. And prioritization is the most principled act of all. I want you to tell me what version of you I’m seeing. What lingers on your mind first thing in the morning. The thought you fall asleep to. In the crevices of your silence, what grows?
subscribe here 💌
How to figure out if something is important to you: what do you return to again and again over the years — what’s the common thread you’re following? Who shows up in your life (the same type of person in different bodies)? When you imagine losing [insert thing, person here], how do you feel?
Here are my current priorities: I care about expression and embodiment. Almost everything I do is a means to that end. I care about preserving the richness of pure attention. And I’m always writing and thinking about the interrelatedness I experience with other people, nature, places.
I can’t stop thinking about this diagram Jenny Odell drew at her book talk:
She was talking about a mindset shift she experienced recently. Of feeling less alone, less sequestered from the world. She talked about perfectionism, control, how lonely it could be.
Years ago I would’ve said my priority was control too: over my environment, my relationships, my body. I could spend my whole life trying to decipher the exact moment my priorities shifted. But: I’m softer with myself now. I relax more into relationships and feel more secure.
Our priorities flow according to the version of ourselves we’re becoming. I’m glad that things change and what’s important to us changes too. If I internalize this, I give myself more grace to move with the seasons. More faith. What matters to me will make itself known in time.
PS: If you are so inclined, please like and subscribe to this newsletter. Your support helps me curate more posts and reach more readers, thank you :)
PPS: You might like my other essays on Intimacy Thresholds and Keeping Promises to Myself
What I’m reading
This impeccable essay on taste by Brie Wolfson
Though taste may appear effortless, you can’t have taste by mistake. It requires intention, focus, and care. Taste is a commitment to a state of attention. It’s a process of peeling back layer after layer, turning over rock after rock. As John Saltivier says in an essay about building a set of stairs, “surprising detail is a near universal property of getting up close and personal with reality.”
Silicon or Carbon by Nadia Asparouhova via Molly
Book: Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley, and I just ordered Saving Time by Jenny Odell after attending her wonderful talk by the Long Now (thank you again, A!)
Quote of the Week
Your handwriting. The way you walk. Which china pattern you choose. It’s all giving you away. Everything you do shows your hand. Everything is a self-portrait. Everything is a diary.
— Chuck Palahniuk
I deeply relate to the overwhelming feeling of attempting to prioritize in the modern world. There is (and always be) too much. I've come to be ok with this.
Oliver Burkman's talk "Time Management for Mortals" series on Waking Up has helped me reframe what it means for me to be productive. I've (mostly) embraced released the need to control all aspects of my life, while still actively engaging hyperplanning and theorizing, for the very real benefits they can bring. It is definitely a paradox. I highly recommend his talks as he presents a much fuller perspective than I can convey here. I've heard his book is very good as well but haven't gotten around to it...yet
Thanks for writing. I always look forward to reading.
Omgggg I started taking magnesium this week too and the dreams 🙈 thank you again for yet another beautiful and insightful essay. It was much needed 💛