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What If My Life Were Just Beginning Now?

by Mike Levin

Friday, May 06, 2022

So what if your life were just beginning? What if you could start over knowing what you know now? How would things be different? Knowing your essential vibe now such as you do? Well first of all, I think what I know now would be an awesome friggin’ starting point. I’m happy with myself, knowing my likes and dislikes, general abilities, preference in people to be around. That sounds like a list:

Yup. That about sums it up at first pass. Yeah, I’m fifty-one years old. Yup, this is hard-won shit just rattled off-the-cuff in under an hour. We all have sort of internal agents working for us in our heads.

Read SciFi. Read Non-Fiction. Both are valuable and not all of equal value. Non-fiction is often more fictional than scifi. At least science-fiction doesn’t lie about lying. There are classics not to be missed in both categories. Not everything is (or has to be) dystopian. The most important SciFi to read is Ian M. Banks The Culture series because it is shows you how badass the optimistic good guys can be.

So how would things be different knowing all of the above? I would no longer covet becoming one of the high-tech empire-building bro’s. In my time it was of course Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. There could not be a more iconic Yin/Yang pair. Yin’s invent. Yangs copy and optimize. Clear, no? And neither path of empire-building necessarily leads to happiness. I mean sure, material comfort. But Jobs died unnecessarily in his sixties, and that’s f’d up. Bill Gates softened a bit in his old-age, but isn’t free. He can’t just go places and do things without carrying around a reality-distortion-field. That’s f’d up too. Freedom in life is nice.

Financial security in life by saving young and deferring so many good things in life is pretty f’d-up too because it keeps you from really trying hard and striving. While I probably should have saved better, I’m much happier with my internalized abilities that can’t be taken away from me and can actually help me survive when dropped into almost any situation than I would be with some number on a screen. It seems to me that the perfect life would consist of:

So again, how would I do things differently if I had to do it all over again?

I don’t think I would. The love-worthy bits I’ve discovered is the love-of-tools and their spontaneous expert use. And the tools I fell in love with have been maturing right along with me, and if I were solipsistic about it, would think for me.

Perhaps I would have taken up vim circa 1996 when I first started to encounter it. I was 26 years old living in Philadelphia working at Scala Multimedia, a Commodore Computers spin-off, but I despised with a passion the person who suggested I do so. He’s one of the people I had to unfortunately become like to contend with. I’m still getting over it, but it did sort of battle-harden me.

I didn’t take up vim again until I moved to New York City and Microsoft Active Server Pages (those files with a .asp extension) went out of style along with the editors designed to edit them. 2009. I was 40 years old. A kid was on the way. I knew that the next text-editor I took up was going to be the last one I seriously took up in my life. I still will tackle emacs one day, but I’m sure to enable vim-mode.

Again while I was at Scala, a friend of mine named Guillaume Proux, a French guy living in Japan who I never met in person whose path combined with mine through my field of SEO (search engine optimization) from a page I published on Scala’s website, told me about Python. This was somewhere around 2002 on my second stint at Scala. I worked at Scala not long after college, after my dad died and I took over his check cashing store, got hit on the head by a robber with a hammer, shot him and got out of the business. I switched to software, LOL! But the first stint was in Virginia near DC and the second stint was in Exton, Pennsylvania. I still joke with Guillaume that I should have listened to him then and taken up Python then. But no harm. I learned all the languages I would not touch with a hundred-foot pole again in my life, including Ruby and JavaScript. Blech!

Tool preference is another case of nuance and subtlety mattering. All those people who play down the importance of your language choice are either naturally very multi-lingual (which is a thing) or they’re liars or deeply un-self-aware. A halfling won’t do very well with a 2-handed sword and a knight in armor isn’t going to wield nunchucks all too smoothly. The fact that the pairing of self and tools doesn’t make a difference, the “Turing complete” argument that any language can do everything another language can do, so language choice doesn’t matter will do you harm. And it’s even worse that the first thing you learn is going to deeply predispose you. Don’t learn BASIC first.

That leads us to Linux and git. I’m on the fence with git. After 15 years, I still really just use it for personal infinite undo on my own projects, and backing up my code on Github. I’m not big on the collaboration features, just like I don’t collaborate on my writing. Coding is a form of self-expression and git for me is keeping my art safe. So I’m neither here nor there. I would probably have preferred Mercurial (hg) to become the unchallenged winning distributed version control system due to its being native Python, allowing for cool integration and easier fast-forward/rewind of your undos and SQL-like searching through the history of your code. But so what? A dvcs system is a dvcs. Linux, though. That’s another case enitrely.

Unix, which Linux is based on, was invented on the year I was born (the above-motioned meant-to-be for-me solipsism which I completely don’t believe). I could hardly take it up popping out of the womb, but hey. It was there. It was invented less than 50-miles away, in fact Pompton Plains New Jersey as I was. The Bell Labs facility where Unix was invented is right near there. It may be an anthropomorphic effect, but again, providence much? Unix was the formalization of interoperable operating systems, which made information tech a viable generalized technology tool (instead of a lifetime of specialization type of tool).

So if I were to do it all over differently, I wouldn’t want to give up all the stars aligning just-so. I’m still alive today. On other paths, I might not be. I earn well and love what I do. On other paths, neither of those things are necessarily true. And although my relationships have been hit-or-miss over the years, whose haven’t. I don’t think I’d trade my life for any other. If I were to do it all over again, I would be quite happy taking the exact same path.