One Place For Your Priorities

October 23, 2008 — 13 Comments

Tucker has this unique ability to reflect on things that haven’t happened yet. It’s pretty subtle normally, but when you start to look for it, it sort of feels like that TV show where the guy gets tomorrow’s newspaper today and Tucker has already seen the article about himself.

At first, I would get so sucked in that I’d just take for granted that they already happened and be right there alongside him in that hypothetical world. Then, I started to notice it more and got angry, like it was dishonest or maybe delusional. Now, I’ve realized that it’s almost identical to something that I do which is to get a taste of an experience, extrapolate it to its end and then move on to the next lesson. I think that’s why I’ve been able to cram so much inside the last two years. I’m not so upset or judgmental about it anymore because, well now I think I get why I reacted that way.

This is the main tenet of stoicism, ultimately. That if you’re going to spend any time thinking about people’s actions, maybe you should start with your own.

An Exercise in Self-Reflection

October 19, 2008 — 9 Comments

Here’s an exercise:

You know when you read biographies of people long since dead and someone says something like “it’s interesting how kind he was to his employees but was so cruel to his relatives” and you think, man I wonder if they ever questioned themselves about that. Or you read memoirs and the person sort of casually mentions how it took them twenty years to realize they were a workaholic or half a decade to figure out that they hated their life and the other half digging themselves out of that impossible hole.

I think a good, but unending job is to endeavor so that no one ever questions something about your life that you haven’t already fully turned over in your head from every possible angle. That you should never realize something about yourself in some momentous epiphany because you’ve institutionalized incremental reflection. The role of a biography is not to work out the problems that you’ve been living every single day because in fact, that’s what every single day is for.

The exercise then is to consider what a stranger would think if the facts were all laid out on the table. What would they question? What have you missed? Finally, what can you do now that would cut off their assumptions–to answer their doubts with actions and avoid the surprise of a cliché?

What I’m Reading 10/15

October 15, 2008 — 14 Comments

In the middle of a research binge for Robert Greene. I’ve never read this many books in my life. 6 in one week was my previous record and yesterday finished my 10th since the previous Tuesday.

Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter by James Hirsch

Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson (reread)

The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry by Harold Bloom (looks at why poets write the way they do, has a premise that with the exception of Shakespeare, no poet has ever completely surpassed their predecessor)

Black Boy by Richard Wright

Socrates by A.E Taylor (short, very good. was Socrates the wisest because he knew that he knew nothing?)

American Courage by Herbert Warden (inaccurate, basic. might be worth it from the bargain section)

Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers (stopped halfway, decent)

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn (good, no reason it had to be so dense though)

The Big Sea: An Autobiography by Langston Hughes (spectacularly simple and well written)

My Life and Battles: By Jack Johnson (the boxer. great book)

American Legend: The Real-Life Adventures of David Crockett by Buddy Levy

Joe Louis, Man and Super-Fighter by Edward Van Every (Louis’s strategy in the ring is fantastic)

Commodore: The Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by Edward J. Renehan (‘always be an owner, never be a minion‘ too bad he was also crazy from syphilis)

The Camera My Mother Gave Me by Susanna Kaysen

Joe Louis as a Key Functionary: White Reactions Toward a Black Champion Evans, Art Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Sep., 1985) (great example of an academic completely missing the point)

Dialing In

October 14, 2008 — 3 Comments

When I first started running again, I think the only way to describe it was angry. I can see myself (the funny thing people take for granted about being self-conscious is that you can picture yourself from angles you’ve never actually seen, like an image of yourself swimming taken from a helicopter hover behind or head) – taking corners at full stride, grinding and heaving. It was about pushing myself so hard that I’d hurt afterward and if I didn’t I’d feel restless and lazy. I’d think about as much as I could and come home and drip sweat all over a legal pad trying to get it down before I lost it.

But now it’s transitioned to something different. I often do the same courses as before but they’re relaxing, steady and peaceful. A rhythm. I can still do 3 miles in 21 minutes (8, 7, 6mm) but it’s not some perversely enjoyed punishment any longer. When I don’t bring an ipod, I’ll return to realize that I spent 40 minutes without a thought. If I do it in the morning, around midnight, I’ll feel like going again. Or I’ll head down and jump rope until I get back into the flow.

The thing, I think, about running like that, or doing anything manically for that matter is that it’s a mask for a search for purpose. As you start to get closer to finding a reason, things slow down. I didn’t find what I was looking for hacking and beating away at the air. It was when I dialed that things started to shift. Instead of trying to get ‘back to where it used to be’ – an allure that is so tempting because it feels right – the idea is to move on to the next thing. To find where you’re flailing wildly elsewhere and approach it with maturity and dispassion.

Here and There

October 9, 2008 — 11 Comments

The dirty secret that you learn when get to leave stop writing and start doing is that the difference between the daily existence of an amateur and professional is mainly illusion.

The biggest property owner in Los Angeles looks for tenets for six story buildings with For Lease signs. Just like I’d sublet my apartment. A company with 5,000 employees still has uses Craigslist to find employees. If you’re going to do a $40,000 ad spend online, you email the site and ask how much it’s going to cost. This one is a stretch but the notion of greenlighting movies with A-listers, I think, is less about some misguided economic theory and fundamentally about the comfort of having heard of the person you’re trusting millions of dollars to.

The things that seem so foreign at the highest levels are subject to the biases and tendencies and limitations that everyone deals with on a daily basis.* I think it’s really easy to get impressed by a 40 foot banner advertising a building for rent, so much so that you forget it has exactly the same purpose as a taped flyer. Or you think, ‘man, if only I had their resources’ when they’re constrained by virtually all of the human restrictions that you are. The difference is mostly about one group needing other people to believe that they’ve got it all figured out. Reality though is that it’s scary how limited the capabilities of most things are.

There’s not some larger, earth shattering point here. In fact, all I’m saying is that you don’t need to wait to learn these things when you get the big leagues because you can intuitively understand them right now. They’re simple and basic. They are right there in front of you. But are you cynical enough to notice?

*A great illustration and nice way to feel better about yourself is to look at the photos from events like a expensive charity ball or a political fundraiser. The people you’ve heard lionized as tyrants or ‘shrewd, cunning strategists’ look like your fatter versions of your parents. Personally, the photos in Variety of Hollywood executives are my favorite.