Freedom and Things


Jul 4, 2019 • matt • ~ 12 minute read • 1553 words

(I totally didn’t finish this on the 4th)

Haha, that was a clickbait title. Unfortunately, no political commentary in this post (I don’t think I could ever write anything that could do that topic justice). However, July 4th is a convenient time to reflect - we’re half way through the calendar year - and I think that I do have a bit to stay about freedom. And, of course, other things too.

freedom & choices

Other than when I have to choose something to watch on Netflix, I love having choices, and I’m sure you do too. This past year, I’ve been given more autonomy, more choices, and therefore more freedom. Obviously, right? I’m off at university, not living with a parent any more, and work a job - all the kinds of things that enable me to make more choices. Right now, I’m also doing other adulty things - doing groceries, cooking and meal-prepping, and working full-time. That means even more choices.

The trick, then, is to make good choices. I’m the happiest about my health and well-being (a topic that I’ve beat to death at this point), and making healthier food choices and choosing to wake up early to go to the gym has done nothing but wonders for me and my body. Similarly, I’m happy about the time I’ve put into studying - it’s yielded better grades, but also it’s given me a better understanding of things that I think are cool. Overall, I’ve been pretty positive about the choices that I’ve made this year. Everything good, right?

But here’s the thing. Being happy with a decision doesn’t mean you made the right choice. Recently, most of my philosophy is grounded in ignoring the difference - ambivalent optimism, if you will. Sometimes, I think this is a great attitude to have - after all, you can’t really go back to the past and change your decision, so there’s no reason to dwell on it. But obviously, being completely ignorant is also bad - you need to reflect on the choices that you make so that you can make better choices in the future. At the end of the day, it’s a delicate balancing act, one where I properly scrutinize my choices without being too too harsh on myself.

Back to the point. There are tons of things that I’m happy about, but I’m not sure if I made the right choice. For example, I work at the UCLA MakerSpace - something that I love doing, and a choice that I’m happy about. However, at the same time, it’s a large committment, and I’m not sure if I could’ve better spent that time, maybe by joining a lab or learning machine learning on the side. I can extend this logic to almost every type of commitment I make; there’s opportunity cost to everything, whether it’s joining a club or binge-watching the new Stranger Things season.

Of course, there are pitfalls to trying to min-max life: in the pursuit of “doing good” or “personal development”, people tend to give up time dedicated towards personal relationships, taking care of themselves, and just having fun. I’m guilty of this all the time - you know, being a natural buzzkill and all - and it’s hard to not do this. When you frame the argument as “should I watch some dumb YouTube videos or should I learn Bayesian probablility”, it’s unfair.

At the end of the day, there’s no grand takeaway from this section - I still have more to resolve. But, I think it’s given me something interesting to think about for the next few days, weeks, months, or years.

freedom & location

Living in LA has both given and taken away my freedom of movement (to put it dramatically). On one hand, I now live close to everything I do. I don’t have to commute for more than an hour to go to school. I live close to my friends, which means I spend much more time hanging out with people in-person or doing things with friends rather than playing video games or calling friends. And, it’s never cold, so I can actually do outside things in the winter.

On the flip side, LA has worse public tranist than Toronto (which I thought was impossible). Since I also don’t own a car (or know how to drive), I’m mostly limited to walking in Westwood or expensive Ubers. And when I’m Ubering Everywhere, traffic in LA is horrendous - I’ll often spend 20 minutes in just standstill traffic. Yet paradoxically, it’s a city where you almost have to drive: everything is so far apart, and the city isn’t bike or pedestrian friendly.

As a result, the way that I have fun and live my life has drastically changed. In some ways, it’s been quite positive: I’m mostly happy that I play less video games, couch potato less, and generally just waste less time doing dumb stuff because doing not dumb stuff is just too much work. I’ve never really been the kind of person who goes out all the time, but I’ve been more of that here: going to museums, movie premieres, and the beach.

I also just spend way more time with my friends, since they’re at most five minutes away. This is by far my favourite “locational freedom” - in retrospect, I really just didn’t have the time to spend with my friends, and I really regret it. I’m a very “everything is fun with friends” kind of person, and so everything is fun.

However, there are a few negatives. University towns and neighbourhoods tend to be bubbles (NYU and USC are two notable exceptions), and I think UCLA is no different. There’s tons of stuff to do on campus which means that I never leave; and, when I do, I tend to hang around the surrounding area.

That already leaves less diversity in the places I visit and the people I meet, but it’s compounded by the fact that Westwood (the part of LA is in) is one of the richest parts of LA. It doesn’t help that LA is significantly more geographically segregated than Toronto (i.e. the differences in neighbourhoods or parts of town are clearly obvious). If you go on Melrose, you’ll switch from high coutoure to underserved schools in a city block; it feels like an entirely different city.

That’s something that I’m looking to slowly change. Right now, the thing that gets me out of the bubble the most is volunteering, which exposes me to parts of LA that I’d never see (and to be honest, want to see) otherwise. Next year, I want to do just a bit more volunteering - I already commit weekly time to helping kids, but I’m considering doing more one-off events (like a holiday food event). Outside of service, I also just need to leave Westwood more: go to K-town or Little Tokyo and get some great food, go to beaches that are a bit farther away than Santa Monica, or hit up Griffith Observatory. Granted, things being farther away makes them inconvenient and take more time, but it’s an important goal to think about.

In addition, not having a commute has actually been a minor inconvenience: namely, it’s limited the amount of personal time that I have. I’d spend my commute reading the Economist & books or listening to podcasts and new albums. I’m grateful that I don’t have to commute any more, but I haven’t been able to make time elsewhere to do those things. Sadly, I haven’t read a book for pleasure this entire calendar year (a very big failure in my book), and I’m always a week or two behind on the Economist. I’ve stopped listening to podcasts, and I rarely have time to listen to more than one or two new albums every week.

I’m not sure how I’ll resolve this problem. It’s a prioritization problem: I have limited time, and too much I want to do. It’s been hard for me to justify turning down hanging out with friends to … read the Economist. It sounds absurd! But if it’s really something important to me, and I think reading especially is, then I’ll just need to find time somewhere.

freedom & misc

There’s a bit more I could blab on about: new “adult” responsibilities I have, the freedom of having more disposable income (through working), freedom on what I have to eat and on what courses I take. However, I don’t think those topics are too interesting, but they might come up later.

And of course, there’s a solid discussion I can have about living in the States versus Canada. Even in the social bubble that is UCLA in the social bubble that is LA in the social bubble that is California, I’ve seen stark contrasts in almost everything, but most importantly in people’s attitudes. It’s hard for me to prove causation there, but it most certainly has been an eye-opening experience. I will say, I’m not sold on America just yet, and I probably took a lot of Canada for granted.

But for now, I’m chilling. I spent my 4th of July watching the entire first season of Stranger Things, and I’m 100% satisfied on that decision. #justiceforbenny

Until next time!

Thank you for reading Freedom and Things. It was written on Jul 4, 2019 by matt. It was 1553 words long, and should be a ~ 12 minute read. It was categorized under life.