I’ve been getting a few emails about what happened to the “What I’m Reading” posts since I haven’t done one in a while. The format just wasn’t working for me and I felt like it wasn’t the best way to do it. I also tried messing around with Amazon reviews but I couldn’t get into it.

What would you guys think of a reading newsletter? I’m still fleshing the idea out in my head but I think it could work as an email sent out every one or two weeks with a list of interesting books I’ve been reading and short reviews. I try to make connections between books or ideas or at the very least use one book to turn me on to another one. This could be a much better way to do that.

I’d like to know if this something people would subscribe to. I have all these really cool, obscure books that I’ve discovered over the last six months that I want to recommend and talk about but a blog is just not the right way to do it. People should be able to email me back and we could talk about them and we can work through the books together. Or if you’re already doing this with someone else, send it to me because I’d like to sign up myself.

Easy Street

June 2, 2009 — 11 Comments

The painter Titian was a workhorse. As a teenager, he apprenticed for Giorgione, who taught him to paint by way of imitating his works. Titian, in other words, learned to paint by counterfeiting. He learned well, we know, because every now and then, a Giorgione piece is discovered to have been a Titian all along.

The next part of Titian’s career – decades of his life – are marked by what seem like tedious, low level hustling. There is hardly a person in Italy whose portrait he didn’t paint. He didn’t just do nobles and kings but their families and friends. Charles V, alone, he painted at least five times. For years he had the standing right to paint the Doge of Venice, and did successive portraits of multiple reigns. Often, he worked not by the patronage system, but on contract. Doing so much a pop, churning out paintings like a machine.

Vasari remarked that near Titian’s death, his style seems to change from a deliberate, painstaking technique to a loose, bold, even coarse series of brush strokes. Yet, from up close and afar, the works are still perfect – maybe better than what he did in his youth. Thinking that this was the key to his success, his imitators have tried to copy the style to mediocre and sloppy results. What they missed, Vasari realized, was that Titian’s comfort concealed the labor beneath the work; it hid the years spent in repetitious portrait painting, of working on the wage system, of learning every variety of face and light and committing it deep into his intuitive memory.

I guess what I mean to say is that we’re often like Titian’s imitators. We perceive a freedom and ease that simply does not exist. In fact, it not only doesn’t exist, but it obscures an effort we haven’t even begun to conceive. I remember when I first left school, I would see people come and go into the office while I was stuck with a schedule and a desk. It felt like they were free and I was in chains. Like, what it must feel to come and go as you please. To feel so secure in your position.

Now I have all that and I realize I was chasing a ghost. I don’t suddenly feel less constrained, I feel more. I’d seen the physical manifestations, what time they came in or where they answered the phone, and tricked myself into thinking that once you got there it all came easy. And of course, it doesn’t, it gets harder.

But if you can rid yourself of the pressure, you can at least start to understand that each one of theses phases has a purpose, purposes that are critically reliant on the phase that came before it. And appreciate it instead of struggling with resentment or dissatisfaction.

Who Can We Turn To?

May 26, 2009 — 32 Comments

“On the web, there’s a certain kind of encouragement to never ask yourself how much information you really need,” Merlin Mann says. “But when I get to the point where I’m seeking advice twelve hours a day on how to take a nap, or what kind of notebook to buy, I’m so far off the idea of lifehacks that it’s indistinguishable from where we started. There’s no shell script, there’s no fancy pen, there’s no notebook or nap or Firefox extension or hack that’s gonna help you figure out why the fuck you’re here,” he tells me. “That’s on you.”

But see, the thing is that you couldn’t walk into a book store without hitting shelves of authors trying to answer that question. Whether they succeed or fail, there is a concerted effort towards substance and meaning. Even movies – not all of them obviously – make statements or indictments or capture moments in time.

I hate that online we’ve just resigned ourselves to the fact that “it’s on you.” I can’t think of one writer I read who I can honestly say is trying to make my life better – efficient or smarter yes, better no. That’s so shitty because it’s what art is supposed to do.

So I guess the question is, what sites are flying under the radar that are working towards that higher level? Those are the sites I want to read, or better yet, the writers I could sign.

Brave New World

May 21, 2009 — 13 Comments

Wilshire Boulevard runs the entirety of Los Angeles, from the city to the ocean. When it curves into downtown, it’s more than six lanes wide, bordered by the tallest skyscrapers in California. At night, they’re backlit against the sky so that when you run, like I do, down the completely empty sidewalks, above the packed 110 freeway and down into the glass canyon, it feels like the city parts at your presence.

At first, I thought this was an example of the soundtrack delusion. A way to use glamour or juxtaposition or association for a false sense of self-importance. Then I realized that it is the opposite. It’s the same feeling that you’d get rising in the morning in a penthouse apartment overlooking the city, or the one you can understand if you’ve ever pulled into the driveway of someone’s mansion, yes, but it’s there for anyone.

A student or a two-million a year bank executive have equal access to the same feeling – the one that we seem to be subconsciously pulled to, like it is fulfilling or innately purposeful though we know, deep down, that’s just an illusion. So maybe the flutter you feel when the street cleaves through the heart of the city isn’t something to scorn, maybe it’s something to embrace.

Getting your fix cheaply, quickly and naturally, in a weird way, might be a kind of freedom.

One Big Waste

May 19, 2009 — 30 Comments

I don’t get “liberal arts 2.0” or Zen Habits or productivity blogs or the rest of these self-improvement sites.

It’s completely detached from reality. Look at these awesome subway maps. Or check out some study about how the brain thinks about difference kinds of cereal. Scientists have discovered a secret way to reduce traffic congestion.

Excuse me if I don’t cum in my pants. In fact, my eyes glaze over. It’s all so pointless.

Am I really supposed to believe that they do anything with this information? I don’t even think they really read it. Does the headline make me seem smart? Are the words “psychology” “rationality” “DNA” “happiness” or “The New Yorker” anywhere in the article? Well then goddamn, I better summarize it and tell other people.

Who gets smarter from this? Where is the discussion? Where is the reality?

Ok, so now my email inbox is 20% more efficient. I’ve examined a sweet tagcloud of words from all the items in Google Reader. I’m firmly convinced that I need to believe in myself. I memorized a list of cognitive biases. Now the fuck what?

We’re not dandies. You don’t get anything for fine-tuning your body and mind like it’s a car modification kit. The question to ask is: What are you working towards? And I think you’d see that you could spend every second of every day reading that crap and it wouldn’t get you anything closer to being there. Unless, of course, your goal is to be one of those writers yourself and pass the buck of actually deriving value from the work to some other hypothetical reader.