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Not The First Time

4 min

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Is it just me, or does life feel a bit...thin?

Maybe it's just the leaves falling, the yearly reminder that all will be swept away, and sooner than we think.

Maybe it's that I spent most of this year head-down, barely catching my breath, struggling to hold everything together, and wondering what my life would look like when all was said and done.

Maybe it was that I started tapping back into the social media ecosystem for the first time in months, wondering what people were talking about, wondering if I could "tame the beast" and get the benefits of global interconnection without incurring its costs.

It's hard to put my finger on, exactly.

But something's happening to me.

And maybe you feel it, too.


I was listening to the radio while lifting weights the other day, a story about a lawsuit against Alex Jones.

"The youngest Sandy Hook student to die," said the reporter, "was only 6."

I stood for a moment, staring at nothing, and then felt a sob wrack my entire body. I sank to one knee, confused, fighting the urge to burst into tears, my teeth gnashed together.


"The question of whether the world will end in fire or in ice, with a bang or a whimper, no longer interests artists alone. Impending disaster has become an everyday concern, so commonplace and familiar that nobody any longer gives much thought to how disaster might be averted. People busy themselves instead with survival strategies, measures designed to prolong their own lives, or programs guaranteed to ensure good health and peace of mind....
"Americans have retreated to purely personal preoccupations. Having no hope of improving their lives in any of the ways that matter, people have convinced themselves that what matters is psychic self-improvement: getting in touch with their feelings, eating health food, taking lessons in ballet or belly-dancing, immersing themselves in the wisdom of the East, jogging, learning how to 'relate,' overcoming the 'fear of pleasure.'"

That was written in the '70s.


Notwithstanding his occasional illusions of omnipotence, the narcissist depends on others to validate his self-esteem. He cannot live without an admiring audience. His apparent freedom from family ties and institutional constraints does not free him to stand alone or to glory in his individuality. On the contrary, it contributes to his insecurity, which he can overcome only by seeing his “grandiose self” reflected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself to those who radiate celebrity, power, and charisma.

That was written in 2006.

If I feel these things - feel them in my bones - and I don't post about them online...

...does it count?

Is it possible to have access to everything, and everyone, all at once...

...and have an impact on nothing at all?


The narcissist believes he is the main character in his own movie. Everyone else has a supporting role-- everyone around him becomes a "type." You know how in every romantic comedy, there's always the funny friend who helps the main character figure out her relationship? In the movie, her whole existence is to be therefore the main character. But in real life, that funny friend has her own life; she might even be the main character in her own movie, right?
Well the narcissist wouldn't be able to grasp that.

I will admit to finding myself disgusted.

Disgusted by the barely-camouflaged sales pitches that pass for "tweets" or "courses" or "discourse" or "advice" or "help" or "art."

Disgusted by the thinly-veiled pessimism and cynicism that passes for "wisdom" or "rationality" or "pragmatism" or "truth."

And that's just on my profile. I can't really manage to engage with anyone else, anymore.

Not really.

Not in any way that matters.

I can respond to a Twitter thread of people I've never met and who wouldn't lift a finger to save me if I was drowning...

...but it's agonizingly difficult for me to pick up the phone and call my friend, even though the last time we texted, months ago, he clearly indicated he was going through a tough time.

And, even now:

I'm talking about him, but the whole paragraph is really about me, isn't it?

Wouldn't be the first time.


My son recently got in trouble for hurting his younger brother. Typical kid stuff, rough-housing that went too far.

"I just feel like I'm a bad kid," he said to me. "I'm always getting in trouble and I can't stop."

I said:

"It's easier to feel bad about yourself than it is to change."

I put him to bed, closed the door, went into the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror.

"I will admit to finding myself disgusted," I said. "Even now, I'm talking about my son, but it's really all about me, isn't it?"

Wouldn't be the first time.


For months now, I have been wondering:

What can be done about it?

If the problem is narcissism...

(and I think narcissism isn't just the problem, it's the foundational belief of our entire culture, it's baked into everything we do and think and see, it's the background and foreground of every image, it's everywhere, all the time) can I try to improve without simply falling back into the trap?

How can I hold up a mirror without simply becoming enamored of my reflection?

"I've been working so hard on overcoming my narcissism. Subscribe to my newsletter to learn how you can do it too."

And then the door slams shut behind you.

Wouldn't be the first time.


Over the next few weeks, I will be telling you exactly how I plan to answer that question.

I am sure I will mess it up.

I am also sure that trying is better than not trying.

It's easier to feel bad about yourself than it is to change.

Might as well try, right?

You and me.

I think we can do it.

And if we fail? Well...

Wouldn't be the first time.



I absolutely love Roam Research, use it every day, and even made a course about it.

But this piece makes a strong argument that Roam and tools like it are, well...

Mostly bullshit.

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