Monthly Archives: July 2014

Meditations on Meditations – 1:4

It’s been a little over six months since my last meditations post. Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we?

To avoid the public schools, to hire good private teachers, and to accept the resulting costs as money well spent.

(Hays, 1)


My parents were huge believers in this method. As the story goes, they took me at the age of three or four to see Linda Silverman at the Gifted Development Center. Linda ran some tests on me and said something to the effect of, “this child has a real mind for learning, but you’re going to need to send them to some very expensive schools.”

My parents spent the next twenty-some years going in to debt on my and my sister’s behalf. We both attended private schools – namely, Rocky Mountain School for the Gifted and Creative. At RMS, as we affectionately called it, each student had an individualized learning plan, and teachers were careful to foster creative thinking, critical assessment, and a broad worldview.

I did not do well in public school. I spent six months at the public Red Oak Elementary in California and became so depressed, angry, and self-harmful that I can’t really even remember that time. I’m sure it was a wonderful school, but I was a really weird kid – extremely sensitive and emotional about everything – and couldn’t handle the “real world” of a 30-student classroom. I spent one year at Boulder High School before leaving for a private boarding school in Wisconsin.

I’m incredibly grateful to my parents and to my privilege that I’ve been able to attend private schools and have individualized education. I fully acknowledge that my position is only possible because I have parents who cared about my education enough to throw the full weight of their financial support in my direction.

I fully support the public school system and know that it’s a great option for thousands of students in our country and worldwide. I’m sure there are students in places around the world who would love to have a chance to go to public school. But for those who can afford it – and I work toward making that more accessible every day – I think that having an individualized, validating education with a focus on creative, social, critical, and abstract thinking is worlds better.

Someday I’m going to build that school.

Perfect Craft, Imperfect Art

I was talking with my good friend Evan, discussing our philosophies of making things. Evan, a classically trained pianist, recalled an aphorism of one of his mentors:

Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

This makes sense in some fields. In playing a piano, if one practices sloppily, one will perform sloppily – incorrect finger positions practiced over and over again will be nearly impossible to correct. I worry about this when I play StarCraft 2: Without guidance from a professional, are the keystrokes I make a thousand times going to be so ingrained that I won’t be able to adjust myself to the practices that will take my skill to the next level?

Attempting to apply this method to creative works fails miserably! A writer cannot write perfectly every time, nor a painter control to the molecule what their paint will do. Designers cannot always know what the user is going to want.

A programmer attempting to make a thousand perfect programs will leave themselves mired in a death by a thousand cuts – they will have no code reach and no output. Which is why I strongly argued that Facebook’s old motto was better for any artist:

Move fast and break things.

What better way to learn the intricacies of impossibly large and complex systems? Even experienced programmers write bugs all the time, and better to do so at some speed which allows progress to be made.

What I was missing during this conversation with Evan was a distinction between Art and Craft. Art being the ability to create works (move fast and break things) and craft the skill that it takes to create art (practice perfectly).

A writer who does not take the time to practice sentence structure and when to break it will find themselves unable to write coherently. A painter who does not attempt to make each brush stroke perfectly will be left frustrated when their paint seems to disobey their hand. A designer who does not use their knowledge of color and proportion will be unable to guide users effectively. A programmer who does not use the right data structures and algorithms will find their code slow and unusable. All of these are separate from the actual “pieces” that each creates.

I think then my goal is to create lots of imperfect art, but practice my craft with skill each time so that I can avoid ingraining bad habits. Perfectionism in craft is important; perfectionism in art leads to procrastination.

Edit: Hacker School facilitator Allison Kaptur points out an excellent article that puts this very clearly (pun intended) at

Meditations on Meditations – 1:3

Some rather late-night rambling here, but a post nonetheless, so that I may move forward with this exercise. I attended a talk on blogging today by @jessejiryudavis which encouraged writing as practice for writing, so I’m taking that to heart.

Her reverence for the divine, her generosity, her inability not only to do wrong but even conceive of doing it. And the simple way she lived – not in the least like the rich.

(Hays, 1)

Marcus demonstrates agnostic tendencies later in his Meditations, but here praises his mother for her worship. However, in the Casaubon translation, the first clause is rendered “Of my mother I have learned to be religious”, which has a wildly different meaning.

A skeptic myself, I am fond of Hays’ translation – he allows that religion has a place in some peoples lives, and even more praises it, but (in Hays’) doesn’t say that he himself needs to follow.

I’m fascinated with the idea of Marcus’ mother not even conceive of doing wrong (pregnancy puns aside). I attended quite sheltered private schools for my entire education. For me, to cheat on a test was literally unthinkable – I didn’t even consider it. I remember being shocked the first time I thought “wow, I could cheat on this and nobody would notice.”

I don’t share this story to brag, but to examine myself and wonder in what ways I’m following what I think is right without making a conscious decision away from wrong. And: more worryingly, which ways I’m committing small wrongs every day without making a conscious choice to do so.

To live simply is something that originally attracted me to Buddhism. (As an aside: I enjoy Stoicism because it echos many of the tenants of Buddhism without requiring a belief in the divine, or reincarnation, both of which bothered me). The idea that with simple living comes clarity of thought and purpose strikes me. Try to purchase only that which you will actually use.