Reflections for the New Year

Nicholas Chen saturday, january 2, 2021
personal-reflection
The first year of this strange new decade is over. Personally, however, the end of the this year is less significant to me than the release of exegesis. A lot of my time was spent developing this project over the last year, and now that it's finished, I have a lot more time to spend on other activities. I'm not really big on resolutions, but I do want to reflect a little on everything. Of course, I anticipate exegesis will help me organize my new endeavors.
I want to get better at music. I went to piano classes as a kid and never really enjoyed them or took them seriously. Now I regret it. I also picked up guitar over quarantine, and want to get into a regular practice regimen for both of these instruments. For piano, I want to learn jazz, and how to improvise - I can't say I have much interest in building up my classical repertoire. For guitar, my current plan is to learn the blues, because I hear that's the root of many musical genres, and maybe branch off into rock or jazz later. A short term goal for both instruments is to familiarize myself with their scales.
I want to read more. I started reading a lot more in quarantine, but slowed down towards the end of 2020 because I was spending a lot more time on exegesis. Now that I have more time, I want to start a steady reading habit. The particular corner of twitter I hang around is fond of citing various philosophers and ideas, many of which I'm interested in, but have never taken the time to study closely. This year, I want to dig deeper into these ideas, go beyond surface-level Twitter philosophy memes and Youtube philosophy videos and read some proper primary sources. Around this time last year, I read Roger Scruton's A very short introduction to Kant. I want to tackle the Critique of Pure Reason sometime this year. I may live-blog my notes on exegesis (though I can't guarantee they'll be very good).
I want to improve at drawing. Drawing is something I've always loved doing, my notebooks from middle school and high school have more doodles in them than proper notes. I never took it particularly seriously, and when life got busy, I'd stop drawing for months on end. However, when I returned, it was always still fun. In fact, every time I've tried to get into "regular" drawing practice, it's always been miserable. There's some strange effect here where the longer I go without drawing, the better my drawings tend to be, as if drawing ability were a fixed resource that took time to build up. drawing
That being said, I think I've figured out a different drawing routine that will work this time. Past practice routines always centered around trying to copy other people's art, or doing realistic sketches/pose practice in pencil. I enjoy drawing without references the most, making things up as I go. Drawing from a reference is always boring and dreary for me. However, there's really no way to improve without using references. This is especially true since my biggest drawing deficiencies are not being able to draw people's faces well, portraying 3D shapes in a non-flat way, shading/cross-hatching, and posing figures naturally.drawing
The compromise that I've arrived at, and that I've tried so far with a decent amount of success, is to draw with my preferred medium (pen), in my own style, while also using a reference. I use the reference for the pose and some of the details, and use my imagination to make up the rest. This is infinitely more interesting for me, and doesn't feel like a dreary technical exercise. I've also given up on using pencil, or charcoal, or anything except pen. I used to harbor a lot of guilt over this, because shouldn't an artist be able to use any medium? Of course, this is ridiculous, it'd be like asking a musician to be familiar with every instrument. It makes far more sense to get really good with one medium than to be mediocre with multiple (feeling some cognitive dissonance here with my desire to learn both the piano and the guitar...). Of course, professional artists (and musicians) really should be learning multiple mediums, but I have no aspiration to be professional at either, only to have some fun. drawing piano guitar
I want to learn a grappling art, preferable Judo or BJJ. I was part of my university's boxing club freshman year, and enjoyed it a lot, especially sparring. However, the risk of head trauma is not something I'm willing to risk in the long term. I hope a grappling art can capture the thrill of combat boxing brings without the risk of head trauma. Of course, there is an increased risk of joint damage instead, which is itself nothing to scoff at, but I'm willing to risk that much more than I am willing to risk brain injury. Between Judo and BJJ, I hear BJJ is much more 'practical', at least in an MMA context, but I find Judo throws to be so aesthetically pleasing. Of course, I can't do any of this until quarantine is over, so in the meantime I want to maintain a good level of fitness so I'll be ready.
I want to learn more code. Working on exegesis over the course of a year, I saw my coding ability improve substantially. Towards the last 2 months, while rewriting a part of the codebase, I found myself dumbfounded by some of the decisions and patterns I had used a year earlier. The code I wrote towards the end was noticeably cleaner and more maintainable, mostly because I had familiarized myself with React hooks. Learning NextJS and GraphQL was also very rewarding, and both technologies were used extensively in the final version of exegesis. Looking forwards, I am thinking about learning Go, Clojure and maybe Rust. Go is the most practical one of all these for my purposes, and could open up a lot of job offers. Clojure is the most interesting from a theoretical standpoint, since I've never used a lisp or functional language. Rust is interesting because I hate systems/low-level programming, but I suspect that might only be because I hate C, and maybe Rust's more modern features will sell me on it.
I want to continue working on exegesis. There are still a plethora of features I want to build into the app. I have wanted to build something like this for a long time - I sort of did with my last project YANA, but the core text engine was so limited that I had to start over from scratch (the product of which is exegesis). I want to sort out a formal list of features before a beta release, and an eventual public release. I will probably use exegesis as a devlog of sorts as well.
I want to write more. I don't really care about writing "better" or more "professionally", because I don't write for a living, and I'm not really interested in selling people on my opinions. Instead, I want to write to broadcast my interests, so I can attract others who have similar interests. Hopefully, exegesis will be an able and capable platform for me to do this.
Finally, I want to take my studies more seriously. Next quarter, I am taking upper division classes on statistics for CS, databases, and information interfaces. I am especially excited about the database class, since database design problems were a big part of what I struggled with while building exegesis. I am also excited about the information interfaces class - exegesis is really just one giant information interface, isn't it? I cannot say I am excited about the stats class, I have never been fond of or good at math, but I will try to brave it with a stiff upper lip. I am considering posting my notes for these classes on exegesis, so I can share them with classmates.
This is a lot. I doubt I'll be able to do all of this, and if I fall short on time, I'll have to cut back on some of these activities. They are not listed in order of importance, I plan on figuring that out at a later date. What is important to me is that I actually think about what I want to do, and the priorities for them. It's all to easy to spend a day noodling on guitar, wanting to get better solely because I saw some guy play a fancy solo on Youtube, or to spend a day learning a programming language I'll never use because someone on Twitter praised it. This is a recipe for mediocrity, because progress takes sustained practice, and I can't sustain these sorts of "inspirations." Instead, I want to think slowly and deliberately about what I want to get better at, and stick to a slow and steady plan to improve at it. That is my "big-picture" goal for this year.
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edited 1 year ago
In Reflections for the New Year, I outlined some things I wanted to get done this year. In no particular order, my goals were to: