First, the books:
- A Tokyo Romance. I bought this this because of a book review, and then saw he was speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival; I pushed through it in anticipation of seeing him, and then ended up skipping the talk in order to go to an interview. It…wasn’t to my taste. It just reminded me of the saying that everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone’s story is worth listening to.
- Emergency. This WAS to my taste; I love most of what I read by Neil Strauss, and needed to get the taste of A Tokyo Romance out of my mouth. This was the perfect way to do it. It’s a book about how to survive. Funny enough, I was asked to talk about survival strategies in another interview (long story), and I was able to use the lessons I’d gained from this immediately.
- The Dharma Bums. From Wikipedia: “Don’t read Kerouac when you’re too young. Read him as you join that long death march called steady employment. Then look back. Look back to all the people you knew, those people who went here and there, those people who knew odd patches of philosophy and poetry. They fucked. They doped and boozed in desperate self medication. Look back at yourself. Jack travels here and there. He knows people with Odd Knowledge. They have plumbed the breadth and depth of human existence. They get laid in the era before The Pill. They doped and boozed. They had the Knowledge. Read Kerouac and look back. And then it occurs to you. It’s all been done before. None of your old pals will ever be quite what he once was in your memory. And you’ll know Kerouac for what he was. And you know that amidst all the lies, he told the truth. The truth with a little ‘t’. He wanted to fool you, but he couldn’t. It wasn’t in him; he hadn’t the talent for it. He had only enough to tell you the way he had wanted it to be. How he wanted it to be when he looked back on it.” – John Suiter. I hated it, far more than I hated A Tokyo Romance, but I stuck through it because my mom and sister always talked about how much they loved it. Then suddenly, in one paragraph, I loved it. I’m not sure I’ll read it every year, but it was well worth the time.
- Captivate. I had heard about this in a few forums and reviews, and then it popped up in my library feed; well worth a read. I’m already using several of the lessons and, I believe, they’ve been effective.
- I Think Therefore I Am: All The Philosophy You Need To Know. Honestly, the subtitle for this should have been, “Some of the western philosophers you need to know” – it is a series of brief biographies of Western philosophers with a brief sketch of their major thoughts. It was like buying a book about the paintings in the Louvre, and the description of the Mona Lisa just reads, “Portrait.”
- Entrepreneur Revolution. Dent Global, the company that publishes these books, sent me some copies for free, and I agreed to read this. A good portion of it is a mashup of Think and Grow Rich, Rich Dad/Poor Dad, The Chimpanzee Paradox, The Four Hour Workweek, and a handful of other self-help entrepreneur books. The thing is, that isn’t bad in this case – he actually does a great job of summarizing the main ideas of other people and putting them in shorter, more digestible chapters. I came out of it with excellent action items, some of which are already reaping dividends – I’d recommend it if you’re interested in entrepreneurship.
- The Greatest Salesman in the World. A classic. I’ve been reading this for a while; this was just a refresher, and I finished it this month.
And that brings me to 56 books for the year.
August was also the month of Fringe shows, and the book festival. At the Book Festival, Jeremy Corbyn disappointed, but Karl Ove Knausgaard was a treat – very sharp, very interesting. I saw plays and comedians at the Fringe, but Pussy Riot was the absolute highlight of performances for me. I only learned that they were at the Fringe from an article in the Guardian about how Masha almost didn’t make it to Edinburgh to perform, and had to elude Putin’s guards to flee the country, and I got tickets immediately.
At the show, I started talking to a few other people. Were they excited to see the band? Absolutely. Had any of them heard much of their music? Not at all. Nobody around me had actually heard a Pussy Riot song; I’d venture to guess that 90% of the audience was there because we’d read so much about their fight against Putin, but hadn’t ever heard a note of anything they’d done. Make that 99%. So we were expecting a performance, and we believed in them as leaders of a movement, but we didn’t know anything about their art. Suddenly, I realized I should not have laughed when Hansel said, “Sting. Sting would be another person who’s a hero. The music he’s created over the years, I don’t really listen to it, but the fact that he’s making it, I respect that.”
I was Hansel. That kind of hurt.
But Pussy Riot was absolutely incredible. The lyrics were all in Russian; a screen behind the band provided videos of what they were singing about, as well as an English translation. About ten minutes into the set, I looked at Masha – a small woman, pretty, with wild blonde hair, but nobody you’d pass on the street and see as a hero – and realized that I’d never seen anyone as brave or tough or daring as she was. The things she’d endured at the hand of the Russian police state, all for standing up for her values, were extraordinary, and the fact that she’d defied a travel ban and got to Britain to share her message…I was in awe.
And it made me really question what I stood for. I still don’t know – and I find that strange, and alarming, because if I don’t know what I’m for, just what I’m against, how do I support anything? How do I make sure that I’m supporting…well, a better society? I tried thinking of things I might be for. Equality? Sure, it is something I could support in a superficial way, but what is equality in society? What would a more equal society look like? Would I support forcibly redistributing money and resources, for example, from those with a lot to those with little? Probably not, to be honest; I also don’t think it would accomplish much, because we’d end up with an unequal society in a few years anyway. Fairness? No, I don’t think fair really comes into play in the real world. The only thing that counts are the rules; fairness is just something that people appeal to when they lose, but they don’t think they should have lost, or the winner went further and did more. If someone says, “that’s not fair!” it just means that they are trying to make a last-ditch appeal when someone else did better than they did.
I didn’t know what I stood for, but I knew that I was in awe at her courage. The hardest thing I’ve done recently is deal with difficult customers; I’m not at risk of being tortured, or imprisoned, or sent to the Soviet gulag. I’m soft.
And yet work has been challenging to my softness. The company I worked for, Xedo Software, is in the middle of being sold off by its parent company, and the company was down to about nine developers (when I joined, I believe there were more than 40). Also, the commute is expensive in time and money, so I really wanted to start a job in Edinburgh.
So I started sending my CV out and hustling interviews. Then, on the last day of the month, I got a call: I was offered a better position in Edinburgh, for more money, and did I want to take it as soon as possible? I submitted my resignation and asked if it might be possible to get a smaller notice period than the four weeks I’d contracted for. My old work said sure. I start at Zonal on Thursday. I’m joining two teams as a Product Owner, and I already have a bunch of friends who work in the building, and they have a food truck that parks outside and serves hamburgers, and it’s a twenty minute walk from home, and I’m incredibly excited.
And that was the end of my 38th year.
When Alice first visited me in Cleveland, we went to a giant used book store that took up two storefronts and an apartment building. Behind a pile of paperbacks, I found the Oxford Book of Ages, which I realized would be a gold mine for Facebook – I’d be able to pick out quotes for each year of life, and then just copy and paste them onto peoples’ walls on their birthdays. People seemed to really take to them well, and I got some interesting perspectives.
For turning 38, the quote I posted for myself last year was:
“And so, dear mother, this scribble must end, as others have done. Tomorrow, I believe, is my eight-and-thirtieth birthday! You were then young in life; I had not yet entered it. Since then – how much! how much! They are in the land of silence, whom we once knew. A few years more and we too shall be with them in eternity. Meanwhile it is this Time that is ours: let us be busy with it and work, work, ‘for the Night cometh.’” Carlyle, letter to his mother, 3 December 1833
And for 39,
“The first forty years of life furnish the text, while the remaining thirty supply the commentary.” Schopenhauer
I’ve posted that dozens of times on peoples’ walls, mostly to remind them that they’re not 40 yet, and that they still have time to “furnish the text” of their lives. But now that I’m reflecting on it, I’m not sure what it means. Have I done everything that I could possibly do, and now all that’s left is to comment on it?
I hope not.
“Meanwhile it is this Time that is ours: let us be busy with it and work, work, ‘for the Night cometh.’”