Boats, Heroes, and Sith

2017-12-31: I arrive in San Francisco. I am as far west as I have ever been, in a place that has been semi-mythical to me for most of my life, and, I realize, standing in the BART station, I am LOST. Not in the sense that I have wandered off my path somewhere, but in the sense that my sense of direction doesn’t get my location.

I’ve always had a fairly strong sense of direction, I’ve surprised people by being able to point in the direction of things in places I’ve never been, but most of my travel has been on land. When I’ve flown to other places, people have picked me up, and I start locating myself by being moved, or following the directions supplied me by others. I am for the first time navigating with only my phone in a strange place.

This is unsettling to me; I had a minor freakout, but eventually made it to my AirBnB, a converted garage, my home for the next few weeks. I spent the next few weeks shivering, even with a heater turned on me, and trying to find a place to live. Between being cold, the difficulty of finding accommodation, and the earthquake that happened a few days after I arrived, I wonder if I’ve made a terrible mistake by coming here.

All things considered housing didn’t take that long to find. I took over a room in Milvia House, a rationalist house on, in a shocking turn of events, Milvia street. Being one of the first, the tradition of names optimized for interestingness hadn’t hit it.

I got settled in, started attending LessWrong meetups, and trying to figure out what to do with my time. I no longer really wanted to game or read fiction all the time, but I wasn’t really sure what I could do. Meeting people was a good start, and made acceptable contributions to my time log, an agreement between my partner and I that I will do at least 20 hours of work that is worthwhile per week, but it was only a start.

When I was in Colorado looking for my next place, I’d looked into rationalist groups doing housing, and one had caught my eye – Rationalist Fleet. I’ve always had a desire to live on a boat, and while I’d found another place to live in Colorado at the time, I was in the Bay Area now. I decided to reach out and see if I could help their project along.

That was how I ended up having one of the more important conversations of my life thus far, and began one of the stranger associations. Someone at a meetup knew the Fleet founders and put me in touch with them towards the end of February. We spoke, and I described myself as I saw myself at the time: a natural sergeant. Someone who was in the middle layer, who made things happen without being on the pointy end of decisionmaking – I was an implementer, not a decider.

Ziz(the titular Sith(her word, not mine)) made it quite clear in that conversation that they had no interest in sergeants. They were only interested in heroes, people who could take the project over if necessary. We ended that conversation, and I thought for a week on the matter, about who I was, who I wanted to be, and what I wanted to do.

A week later, I had decided: I was a hero; I had limited myself, having a lower opinion than I should have due to my backstory, and the limiting effect of thinking of myself as a supporting cast member rather than a main character. I would step to the front, be on point, and come what may, I wasn’t going to back down.

This began an association that got me several shipside experiences on the Robert Gray, which sometimes took us out to Caleb, the Fleet’s tugboat. I got to do a lot of physical work putting things into a workable order there, cleaning up and epoxying a rowboat, prepping zincs, playing little Dutch Boy at one point with my finger in a hull-hole while I waited for the cement to be prepared. It was good experience for me, but the primary purpose of my being there was to collect the philosophy and mental tech that Ziz and Gwen had gathered / originated.

This was… less successful.

I did pick up some things from them, mostly in terms of self-actualization, and it took a long time – for basically all of 2018, I was in a state I described as ‘inert’. I had a lot of trouble moving myself to do things without outside pushes. It was increasingly frustrating to me, and from my current perspective, looks very much like a mindset problem.

I think my time working with Z&G before we parted ways earlier this year was good for me, but I can’t recommend it as a general thing for people to do – their philosophy has major issues, their mental tech seems flawed, and I basically picked out and incorporated the bits that were helpful to me, while not being wedded to the rest (I also had a very clever girl help me to see some of the issues).

Aside from time spent on ships, other interesting things happened that year – the REACH opened in March, and I reached out to Stardust about volunteering for it. I got to help set the place up, and I spent a lot of 2018 before late fall hosting coworking in the space. I’m a large fan of community spaces, and I think the REACH has added a lot to Berkeley. I’m pretty proud of the time I’ve spent here (currently typing this on a couch in the REACH).

The next major event was probably the end of Milvia House. There had been interpersonal events which I don’t feel it’s my place to set on the internet and several members decided that they wanted to move on rather than continue living with one of the housemates. As nobody still residing there was on the lease, and the landlord had been included in a post to the mailing list about how he was screwing us on rent, he was disinclined to rent to us again, and we went our separate ways.

I moved to Cactus House, subletting a half-room for a few months. It was at least still convenient to host at REACH; I didn’t spend much time at home, since I had places to be and things to do. It was around this time that I decided to try being vegan. I am capable of doing so, but it’s got a high overhead for me, and the place I’ve come to on it is that I’d rather keep my optimization power for upskilling to save the world. These days, I’m mostly vegetarian – I drink milk, eat eggs (choline!) and I have roughly one meat meal per month, because I seem to work better when I do so.

My sublet at Cactus was strongly time-limited, and by the end of it, my primary partner still hadn’t arrived (we’d planned to get housing together, but he needed to be here for that). I spent much of the next month couchsurfing, sleeping at a friend’s or at REACH, and coming to a realization: I had a problem.

Specifically, I was dissociating from my emotions, and I noticed it because it was starting to eat into my positive emotions. I’d started having trouble feeling anything at all.

The friends I was crashing with were, luckily for me (remember I mentioned being lucky?) they were actually quite good at this kind of issue – they’d worked through some of their own CPTSD and that of others.

A lot of what helped was remembering a time I’d been in an emotional state, and telling that story. While I was, it was pointed out that I was outputting anger – my movements, my body language, my tone had all changed. With events like that, and some therapy through intoxication, I was able to get a lot more connected to my emotions, which was great, because shortly after that my partner arrived.

I started sleeping at the REACH every night, because he’d taken a room temporarily, and we began looking for housing in earnest, eventually moving into Liminal house. While the room was reasonable for us, Liminal has an emissions problem. Some kind of VOC seeps into the atmosphere, and it screwed up my motivation and put me into a depression. Being depressed and unmotivated was not a great state to be in, when I heard about Martina dying. While our relationship had been strained, I still cared a lot about her, as I’ve described elsewhere. I closed out my year crying a lot, and wishing I were stronger, because the world was on fire and the fire had just consumed someone I cared about.