Sunday Letter | #280

Ceiling with drywall mud lines.
North La Salle, Detroit, MI

The other day, while trying on my own to hang a heavy wooden door, I felt a sharp pluck in my left pectoral muscle.

Okay, I hurt my boob. My left-side movements are constrained, I now constantly smell of Tiger Balm (not a bad smell), and I’ve been reminded yet again to not overexert myself, and to ask for help when I need it. Delays beget more delays because playing catchup often makes things worse.

These have been on my mind a lot lately: flywheels, spirals, self-reinforcing loops. I’ve told people that New York for me was a centrifuge, like the ones NASA uses to ready astronauts for high gravity; it spun me faster and faster, and eventually was either going to spit me out or turn me into mush (it spit me out). Sleep is a such flywheel: don’t get enough and you’re more anxious, get sick more easily, thereby making it harder to fall and stay asleep. Debt is another flywheel: if you can’t afford to change the brake pads on your car, you end up having to replace the costlier rotors later on, pushing you deeper into debt.

Climate change causes droughts in the Amazon, causing trees to release more CO2 into the atmosphere, causing more climate change.

But all these things (maybe climate change excepted?) have positive sides too. Get adequate sleep and you’re healthier, less anxious, better at going to bed on time. Stow a part of every paycheck in an index fund and you benefit from the flywheel of compound interest. Another way to think about building healthy habits is this: you try to get off the bad flywheels and get on the good ones.

Maybe the flywheel analogy is oversimple. There are many more ways for things to go wrong than right (do I really believe this? let’s say for now I do). A satellite moving too fast gets flung toward the deep dark, while one going too slow spirals to a crash on Earth. Maybe it’s better, then, to imagine a space station, requiring small adjustments – small course corrections – along the way, so as to hang in perfect, harmonious orbit around Earth or Piicea-9.

So: I am trying to stay eternally vigilant. And I will be calling in some extra help this week with the house. The end-of-week goal is to have the trim primed and painted, and possibly the ceilings too. To work diligently and efficiently, but not to rush. To recover, and recover well.