Confiding in the Void

We’ve reached the 11th month of 2018, so I can say that the theme of this year has been community. From my perspective.

What does the average specimen of Homo sapiens need to be satisfied with their group and their own prospects within it? What are we currently lacking, we atomized modern creatures? (Please read the whole Samzdat series.) I’ve been trying to figure that out, and although I’ve gained some insights, I can only speak authoritatively for myself.

The following is a personal account of anomie.

As young as I am at 24, I’m still astounded by the amount that I learn over relatively small timespans. Human nature has long fascinated me, but during the past year I have dealt with it more intimately and dwelled on it more deeply than in the past.

Notice that I use the word “it” and refer to human nature in general, rather than citing specific connections with individual people. I have deep emotional relationships with my fiancé and immediate family, but my friendships remain primarily intellectual. Even with my dear partner, I struggle to be raw and vulnerable when I’m not intoxicated. Alcohol loosens my tongue and enables me to express the sentiments that scare me.

I would say that I love my friends, and they greatly enrich my life. Yet I remain puzzled by the easy camaraderie and affection that people seem to share with each other. I don’t know how to put this into the right words, the words that would properly convey what I mean. It’s a discomfiting sensation because words are supposed to be my forte.

Over the past couple of years, I have become more familiar with that which I cannot articulate. I’ll try anyway.

Here’s what I want to tell you: I remember the profound closeness of my childhood and teenage years, when platonic intensity bound me to a handful of other girls. I didn’t fully appreciate those friendships at the time. I feel their absence acutely, and it hurts to remember, because I know what I’m missing. I still haven’t figured out how to make true intimacy part of my adult life.

I used that word earlier — I said that now I understand human nature “more intimately.” I wasn’t wrong, per se, but my peer-to-peer connections are anchored by shared curiosities rather than bare feeling. My friends and I have little bearing on each other’s hearts. If we hold more than that between us, it’s hard for me to see.

Again, I sincerely love my friends, but I don’t think that we know each other at the core. We rarely offer that level of exposure, although I suspect that most of us would readily accept it from someone else. Tossing around ideas is safer than revealing angst in less-than-sardonic terms.

I come across as an open person, as far as I can tell. People have commended me on it. I don’t think that I give the impression of being reserved. But I am; I have secrets that fill me with inexpressible shame. That’s normal. Usualness does not reduce the burden.

I think that my brethren — my fellow thinkers and discussers — tend to be afflicted in this way. We prize cleverness and abstraction to the extent that we suppress our yearnings for human-to-human communion.

On the other hand, I could be committing the typical-mind fallacy. (Is it ironic to include that caveat?)

I have a guess about why I’m pondering this subject, why I feel bereft of true connection beyond my partner and family. It’s probably because I’ve reduced my dose of psych meds. The underlying realities are the same, but how I weigh them has changed.

I’ve been taking venlafaxine for five or six years, since I was a teenager. The drug saved my life; I would be an addict on the streets or otherwise miserable without the boost that it gave me. At a time when I was mired in despair, venlafaxine restored my energy and optimism enough for me to drag myself toward adult functionality and eventually happiness.

Granted, the upgrade was accomplished with plenty of support. I still resent my parents for creating me without my consent, but the anger has lost its potency. I owe them an incalculable debt for helping to transform my life into a good one. My fiancé deserves gratitude as well.

Despite all of the complaints above, I am cheerful most days — often productive! I love my job, am thankful for my luck in finding it, and cherish the belief that I am helping to build a future where autonomy is paramount and accessible to all.

I hope that the trend will continue. I want to believe that my brain is going through some kind of chemical adjustment period and I’ll be able to come to terms with a self that has emotions surging under the skin. I want to feel what I feel without being overwhelmed.

It may turn out that I need to stop tapering. I may decide to jump back to 225mg daily instead of my current 150mg. I can’t pinpoint why I hope that my mental health won’t require a reversion.

As a transhumanist, in principle I see nothing wrong with relying on medical technology to feel okay. Apparently despite my beliefs I’ve been nursing a latent hope that venlafaxine actually “fixed” me over the past five years, as opposed to being a treatment that I will need… forever?

In conclusion: I’m glad that I wrote this blog post, but I’m slightly fearful of the reactions. Despite my trepidations (or perhaps because of them) I’m going to solicit thoughts from a few of the people I like and respect. It’s a way of being intimate — there’s that word again! — without addressing them directly.

Am I being cowardly or brave? I think the former. Laudable courage would be publishing the secrets that I mentioned before. Alas, that is more than I can offer, although I would readily accept such disclosures from others.

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Monthly Shenanigans, Spring 2018

Happy June 👋

Once again, you are reading The Newsletter Formerly Known as Exolymph! Hopefully you’re all aware of that by now and I can stop using the disclaimer.

It’s appalling, but the last time I sent one of these dispatches was during February. In the meantime I wrote seven installments of an experimental project called Sonya Notes, mostly about epistemology. You can read those posts on my website or on Substack.

The biggest change since February is that I quit journalism! In May I joined the Zcash Foundation as its third employee. My job entails messaging strategy, marketing, PR, and general outreach. We’re a small team, so I tackle whatever needs doing, as long as I can pull it off.

A lovely side effect of not writing articles for work is that my creative drive is slowly refreshing. Stay tuned for a handful of essays in the coming months. Perhaps I’ll make a zine again! I miss zines.

What have you been up to? Any interesting projects?

Best,
Sonya

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Iterative Personal Development

Currently I am slightly obsessed with the concept of iteration. (That was the intent behind my “communicational pliancy” post.) When people talk about iteration in terms of software development — which is the context that I’m familiar with — they mean gradual improvement, tweaking and changing things after “shipping the minimum viable product”.

I want to live my life along the same lines: trying things, gathering information about how well they worked, and then trying something else. Built into this approach is room to experiment, even to fail.

Evolution by Kevin Dooley, made with Ultra Fractal software.
Evolution by Kevin Dooley, made with Ultra Fractal software.

I was talking with a new friend recently about designing systems, especially systems meant to organize people. I cited one of my takeaways from The Design of Everyday Things: you have to expect people to try the “wrong” thing, to misunderstand how the design is supposed to work. People will press every button in every bizarre combination and you have to plan for that. Systems (of all kinds) have to be designed to accommodate failure — if they aren’t, they will eventually self-catastrophize, to coin a phrase. (Just give Zappos a year or two.)

If you squint, this principle applies to one-person systems also. For optimal productivity and happiness, I have to design my own habits and attitudes to accommodate the quirks of human nature, my own specific personality, and the inevitable ill-advised impulse. Iteration seems like a great framework for this, since it’s all about incremental change that leads to gradual improvement.

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Nature Is Brutal

Content warning for pet death and light descriptions of gore.


Death is on my mind. Not in a morbid way. I’m thinking about death because it happens all the time. Everything I can say about this sounds trite; we’ve been grappling with it for millennia. Even just that sentence sounds like a rehash of previous rehashings.

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” — Genesis 3:19, King James Version

Three of my rabbits have died during the past few months. To be more accurate: two of my rabbits died and one was killed.

The first two deaths were sad, but they were okay. One bunny died while digging a hole in the garden, and one died while taking a nap, as far as we can tell. Both seemed peaceful, and rabbity — good ways to go. We can’t be sure without necropsies (animal autopsies), but our theory is that their deaths were due to old age. We didn’t know the precise age of either rabbit, since they were both adopted from Craigslist, from previous owners who also weren’t sure of the animals’ ages, but they weren’t visibly sick or behaving strangely. “Natural causes” is the best guess.

Of course, “natural causes” is a misnomer. We use that term to talk about expected deaths, ones caused by internal malfunctioning. But murder — to use a melodramatic term for predation — is natural.

The third rabbit, our favorite rabbit, the one we’ve had the longest, was killed. We think it was an owl. My mom heard the scream in the night — she went outside to see what was happening, saw that all the animals’ enclosures were shut, and went back to bed thinking that our pets were okay. As it turned out, Doof had pushed open the door to his enclosure, which bounced back behind him, and was freely enjoying the night, I presume. Until he was attacked.

Continue reading “Nature Is Brutal”

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Advocacy = Elation + Exhaustion

We need to fully decriminalize prostitution.

I wrote a short essay responding to the whorephobic Marshall Project interview that I called out last week, and they published it. Please read my argument for decriminalizing sex work, because it’s very important to me personally and many stigmatized laborers globally.

“Most sex workers do it for the reason that anyone does any job: they need money to live or to support their family. Punishing consenting participants in an exchange of money and pleasure does nothing but limit the economic options of someone who likely had few to begin with.”

Mostly this is a positive incident — I’m glad that I contacted TMP and I’m glad that editor-in-chief Bill Keller solicited a more developed version of my opinion. But it was an emotionally draining process. Getting worked up in the first place was scary and triggering and felt horrible. It wrenched to put my reasoning into words — I kept trying to intellectually shy away from the process. Debating whether to go ahead and be “out” entirely was painful. You get the idea.

I mostly avoid media pertaining to sex work or feminism, because the general experience is so upsetting. I resent having to write about these issues over and over again, having to rehash the same thoughts and memories. The world should go ahead and improve now.

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