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MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

one with nothing by CJ Q. '23

making peace with unproductivity

seven. in magic the gathering, a player’s hand size is seven cards. this is the starting hand size, subject to mulligans, and the maximum hand size. you can have more than seven cards but at the end of a turn you must discard down to seven.

six. i didn’t do much this iap and that’s fine.

well, depending on what your view is of “much”, this isn’t true. i wrote a really long post, which is now my longest post on the blogs. mystery hunt happened. then i wrote a blog post about mystery hunt, which ended up double the length of my current longest post. so from the perspective of number of words written, i’ve written the equivalent of a nanowrimo.

(by the way my mystery hunt post is coming out tomorrow morning and you all should read it. it’s novella-length but it’s really good i promise.)

but, well, that’s pretty much all i did: mystery hunt, and two really long blog posts. i did a lot of other things too, sure. i’m two-thirds of the way into book 3 of a practical guide to evil. i went on lots of calls with friends, old and new. i’ve started playing slay the spire, and it’s really fun and i’ve spent several hours playing it already.

none of these are productive things. and well, it’s not the kind of productive i refer to when i say “i need to be productive”; that kind of just means “i shouldn’t be procrastinating on my work”. i mean it in the literal sense, where “being productive” means “producing things”. in retrospect, i care a lot about being productive, although i don’t think of it like that. it’s more of a, if i don’t write anything in a week then that’s bad, if i don’t program something for a while then that’s bad.

five. here is a related concept. the other night i had a conversation with vincent h. ’23. it went something like this.

vincent: yeah i’m worried i’m going to waste my entire sophomore spring
cj: pls
vincent: but in hindsight i feel like i wasted every semester of college
cj: have you considered not caring
vincent: how do you do that
cj: idk
vincent: teach me
cj: okay like
cj: what does not wasting a semester look like
vincent: i don’t know because i’ve never done it
cj: i mean idk

i didn’t know how to say it at the time, but what i wanted to say was probably something like

cj: if you don’t know what a non-wasted semester looks like, that means you’re probably doing fine then?
cj: not as if you’d know how to make it better
cj: it’s easy to idolize the abstract goal of “productivity”, but i feel like even if you did a urop and took six classes and got a paper published you’d still be the kind of person who’d think it was a waste
cj: so in that case, why not just do whatever feels right
cj: it’s probably right

four. let’s talk about card advantage. a game of magic has many resources, like energy or life points. being a card game, cards are the most obvious resource. card advantage refers to using this resource effectively.

suppose we take a very simple view of magic, and assume that all cards are about the same. normally, one of your cards matches one of the opponent’s cards. but some cards are more powerful, and can match several of your opponent’s cards in strength. and some cards allow you to draw more cards, so you can use more cards to match the opponent’s cards. and of course, it’s not always the case that you can use every card when it’s drawn.

manipulating card advantage, then, means that drawing cards is generally a good thing, because it gives more options. making your opponent discard cards is also generally good, and it follows that discarding your own cards is generally bad.

three. this spring, i am going to try to do more nothing.

i’m going to avoid taking any hard classes, for real. i won’t take long-term commitments for clubs and stuff. and i’m not going to say, oh, i’m gonna use the time for personal projects or whatever. none of that. i’m going to slack off, spend my time reading stuff and watching anime and playing video games and messing around.

if i end up feeling worse about it than in a usual semester, then so be it! my theory is that i’ll probably end up feeling the same anyway, or at least very similar. i think i took my first really really hard class last fall when i took 6.854 advanced algorithms. yes, i did feel like i learned a lot of things, yes, i liked the class. but. but i’m not sure how much i’d actually value that, over, say, spending all that time playing celeste or whatever.

after all, the reason i do things like watching or reading or playing is because i find it fun, right? if i had free time, i wouldn’t explicitly choose to do something unfun with it. if i eventually end up getting sick enough of those things that doing “productive” things like writing more blog posts or working on personal projects would be more fun, then so be it—at least whatever i do, i’ll end up liking it.

two. part of the doubt i’ve been having comes from “but aren’t i in school to learn? to prepare for my job or whatever? if i’m not preparing for the future then what am i doing?”

in that sense it reminds me of the conundrum i had with my urop last summer. it was a web development thing, and it’s not that i disliked web development. it’s that i liked it the most when i pursued it, rather than having it handed to me, if that makes sense? overjustification effect?

i think that it is useful to learn things, otherwise i’d drop out of college! i think it is useful to pursue things for the sake of career development or whatever. i think the point is that i tend to be the kind of person who does this to the exclusion of other things, to the point of diminishing returns.

ten years down the line, i will probably look back fondly on all the fun and irresponsible things i’m doing now more than i will on the things i’ve learned for 6.854.

one. there is a magic card called one with nothing.

One with Nothing {B} Instant Discard your hand. When nothing remains, everything is equally possible.

in a typical game, there are very, very few scenarios in which this card would be helpful. sure, every once in a while you may want to discard specific cards to trigger other cards, but it’s rarely useful for you to discard all the cards in your hand. even if you’re trying to win by drawing all the cards in your library, you would still not want to discard all of your cards.

so yes. it’s a bad card. why did it get printed, then? why do cards like these exist in the first place? the answer is quite subtle and subject to discussion. (these are good things to read/watch even if you have no magic experience btw, recommend.)

my takeaway is that cards like one with nothing present a question. here’s a card that looks useless, what could you do with it? what are the possible synergies? when nothing remains, everything is equally possible—even the flavor text for the card asks the same question. what is possible?

whether or not it’s a good card, it’s a card that people are talking about fifteen years after it was first printed, and i guarantee you that people will be talking about it for fifteen years more.

zero. when nothing remains, everything is equally possible.

when i start letting go of things, the things that remain will be the ones that really matter.