Book Review: Jesus’ Son – Denis Johnson

Overview: I read this book after hearing Tim Feriss mention it in a podcast. He claimed that Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, has read the book hundreds of times. Fight Club is one of the books that help me re-connect with an innate love for reading/learning, so upon hearing this I became intrigued. After reading this book and several of Palahniuk’s novels, there is a strong resemblance in the style of him and Johnson.

The book itself is a compilation of short stories that cross into a dark area told by a strung-out narrator who seems to be transcending his life. The plot of the stories isn’t typical in the sense that there isn’t much structure, but the writing style is pathologically raw and pure to the essence of what the narrator is experiencing. Despite the dark nature of the stories, there is a real draw towards continuing to read, just like what you get when you are reading a book written by Palahniuk.

Lesson: I am going to take a different approach with this one. The lesson for me revolves more around the writing itself than the content within the book.

This is one of those books that I think you should be reading if you are trying to re-tell stories or develop fiction that is based in humor or has a level of darkness to it. The writing style Johnson presents is unique, and I believe that the feeling you get while you are reading it brings out creativity and energy.

I’m sure you have heard that a good thing to do before addressing an audience is to listen to a clip from a comedian’s special. I think this is a book you should read before you start writing any sort of creative piece. Even if you aren’t aware of it, taking in words written by Johnson will probably influence your own.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

I mean that he couldn’t tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn’t tell him what was real.

Down the hall came the wife. She was glorious, burning. She didn’t know yet that her husband was dead. We knew. That’s what gave her such power over us. The doctor took her into a room with a desk at the end of the hall, and from under the closed door a slab of brilliance radiated as if, by some stupendous process, diamonds were being incinerated in there. What a pair of lungs! She shrieked as I imagined an eagle would shriek. It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I’ve gone looking for that feeling everywhere.

He’d wasted his entire life. Such people were very dear to those of us who’d wasted only a few years. With Kid Williams sitting across from you it was nothing to contemplate going on like this for another month or two.

There were many moments in the Vine like that one—where you might think today was yesterday, and yesterday was tomorrow, and so on. Because we all believed we were tragic, and we drank. We had that helpless, destined feeling. We would die with handcuffs on. We would be put a stop to, and it wouldn’t be our fault. So we imagined. And yet we were always being found innocent for ridiculous reasons.

Later in the afternoon, with sad resignation, the county fair bares its breasts. A champion of the drug LSD, a very famous guru of the love generation, is being interviewed amid a TV crew off to the left of the poultry cages. His eyeballs look like he bought them in a joke shop. It doesn’t occur to me, as I pity this extraterrestrial, that in my life I’ve taken as much as he has.

But nothing I could think up, no matter how dramatic or completely horrible, ever made her repent or love me the way she had at first, before she really knew me.

They splashed holy water on my cheek and on the back of my neck, and I didn’t feel a thing. Not for many years.

She wanted to eat my heart and be lost in the desert with what she’d done, she wanted to fall on her knees and give birth from it, she wanted to hurt me as only a child can be hurt by its mother.

The motor traffic was relentless, the sidewalks were crowded, the people were preoccupied and mean, because Happy Hour was also Rush Hour.

“That’s too bad, because asking me if I’m alive makes you look kind of stupid. Obviously, I am.” “Well, maybe I mean alive in a deeper sense. You could be talking, and still not be alive in a deeper sense.”

I looked for work because people seemed to believe I should look for work, and when I found a job I believed I was happy about it because these same people—counselors and Narcotics Anonymous members and such—seemed to think a job was a happy thing.

No more pretending for him! He was completely and openly a mess. Meanwhile the rest of us go on trying to fool each other.

But I felt about the circular hallway of Beverly Home as about the place where, between our lives on this earth, we go back to mingle with other souls waiting to be born.

All these weirdos, and me getting a little better every day right in the midst of them. I had never known, never even imagined for a heartbeat, that there might be a place for people like us.

 

The Essential Group Companies Need for Scalability

Dodgeball – Credit Wikipedia

Imagine if your full time job was to think about ways for grown adults to have fun, and then organize these people to do the things you think of. Capture the flag on Friday afternoon. Video game tournament mid Monday morning. Trampoline after lunch on Wednesday. You name it. That would be pretty awesome, right?

If you think about it, most established companies have a wide array of groups that serve different purposes. Sales, marketing, finance, engineering, et cetera. Together they make everything work. But what about the well-being of the people who work in these groups? Is both the mental and physical health of these people not one of the most important things for making the company run as efficiently and effectively as possible? Would it not make sense for there to be a division of the company devoted to making sure that there are opportunities for employees to incorporate fun into their day to day lives? Based on some studies, and from the general consensus of anyone I have met, the majority of people do not really enjoy what they do for a living. As an employer, would it not make sense to try to offset this general trend by trying to lighten things up a bit? Balance out the mundane nature of work with a little bit of fun?

I know a lot of startups and tech companies do a pretty good job at this. I know Google pays employees to give them time to work on whatever they want, and more and more companies are adopting a similar policy. I think Twitter has live music (or a DJ) in their onsite cafeteria, Riot employees play video games, and I’ve heard of standing meetings taking place around a foosball table. The often repetitive and mundane quality of our daily work goes against the spark of being human. Without a balance, our moods plummet, our anxiety skyrockets, and we become less interesting people.

You can probably get the idea as to where I am going with this. With this problem comes an opportunity. An opportunity for you to become the person who incorporates fun into the everyday life of the 9-5er. Become a consultant, become the facilitator. It wouldn’t be hard to convince people of the benefits of daily fun in the workplace, and it probably wouldn’t be hard to get people to want to participate in activities which go against the mundane. I didn’t do any research while writing this, but I would guess this is already being done by people. But it probably isn’t being done as much as it could be.

In 2014 this is all it takes to come up with an idea for a business, product, or service. You think about something that sucks, or something that could be improved, a common problem that people have, and you think of how you could solve it. Boredom and people hating their jobs, having high levels of stress and low levels of fun, is a pretty significant and widespread problem. In my opinion, it is something worth solving, or at least improving. And the average person who dislikes the day to day grind probably wouldn’t be against it.

Book Review: The Boys in the Boat – Daniel Brown

Overview: I will start by noting that this is one of the best books I have read so far in 2014. Daniel Brown tells the true story of a group of young men who overcame all odds to win the gold medal in the 2,000 meter nine-man rowing sprint in the Berlin 1936 Olympics. The story revolves around Joe Rantz, a teenager growing up without a family in the midst of the great depression. Rantz joins the Washington rowing team, led by legendary coach Al Ulbrickson and assisted by famed boat builder Joe Pocock, where he struggles to find a spot on the varsity boat which is ultimately destined for the 1936 Olympics.

It is a story of overcoming adversity, beating all odds, and learning the power of trusting the people on your team. Brown does an amazing job at telling this story, and it is something I believe anyone can find value in. The Washington rowing team represents the power that can come when people unite for the same cause, entrusting everyone involved.

Lesson: In a team, the ability or skill of an individual isn’t the most important factor of success. Great things happen when a team is made of members who entrust the people around them to give it their all, because they are all working together for the same cause.

There are many quotes from the book itself that do a better job incorporating the lesson stated above, most of which can be found below.

Interested in other books I have read? Check out the archive here.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

It was a shared experience— a singular thing that had unfolded in a golden sliver of time long gone, when nine good-hearted young men strove together, pulled together as one, gave everything they had for one another, bound together forever by pride and respect and love. Joe was crying, at least in part, for the loss of that vanished moment but much more, I think, for the sheer beauty of it.

There were a thousand and one small things that had to be learned, mastered, and brought to bear in precisely the right way to propel a twenty-four-inch-wide cedar shell, carrying three-quarters of a ton of human flesh and bone, through the water with any semblance of speed and grace.

The trick would be to find which few of them had the potential for raw power, the nearly superhuman stamina, the indomitable willpower, and the intellectual capacity necessary to master the details of technique. And which of them, coupled improbably with all those other qualities, had the most important one: the ability to disregard his own ambitions , to throw his ego over the gunwales, to leave it swirling in the wake of his shell, and to pull, not just for himself, not just for glory, but for the other boys in the boat.

Being in motion, outdoors, with wind in his face made him feel alive— it brushed away the anxiety that since his mother’s death had seemed to be nibbling continuously at the corners of his mind.

If you simply kept your eyes open, it seemed , you just might find something valuable in the most unlikely of places. The trick was to recognize a good thing when you saw it, no matter how odd or worthless it might at first appear, no matter who else might just walk away and leave it behind.

Physiologists , in fact, have calculated that rowing a two-thousand-meter race— the Olympic standard— takes the same physiological toll as playing two basketball games back -to-back. And it exacts that toll in about six minutes.

It’s not a question of whether you will hurt, or of how much you will hurt; it’s a question of what you will do, and how well you will do it, while pain has her wanton way with you.

And he came to understand how those almost mystical bonds of trust and affection, if nurtured correctly, might lift a crew above the ordinary sphere, transport it to a place where nine boys somehow became one thing— a thing that could not quite be defined, a thing that was so in tune with the water and the earth and the sky above that, as they rowed, effort was replaced by ecstasy.

It is hard to make that boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of men and equipment, but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend. So is life: the very problems you must overcome also support you and make you stronger in overcoming them.

“No. That won’t work. Look, Son, if there’s one thing I’ve figured out about life, it’s that if you want to be happy, you have to learn how to be happy on your own.”

By the mid-1930s, a Pocock eight-man shell would have the same market price as a brand-new LaSalle built by General Motors’ Cadillac division.

You had to master your opponent mentally. When the critical moment in a close race was upon you, you had to know something he did not— that down in your core you still had something in reserve, something you had not yet shown, something that once revealed would make him doubt himself, make him falter just when it counted the most. Like so much in life, crew was partly about confidence, partly about knowing your own heart.

Perhaps the seeds of redemption lay not just in perseverance, hard work, and rugged individualism. Perhaps they lay in something more fundamental— the simple notion of everyone pitching in and pulling together.

Eventually, if they were going to become what he hoped they would, he would need to see each of them develop the rare balance of ego and humility that great oarsmen somehow always manage to have.

The sport offers so many opportunities for suffering and so few opportunities for glory that only the most tenaciously self-reliant and self-motivated are likely to succeed at it.

The wood , Pocock murmured , taught us about survival, about overcoming difficulty, about prevailing over adversity, but it also taught us something about the underlying reason for surviving in the first place. Something about infinite beauty, about undying grace, about things larger and greater than ourselves. About the reasons we were all here.

The ability to yield, to bend, to give way, to accommodate, he said, was sometimes a source of strength in men as well as in wood, so long as it was helmed by inner resolve and by principle.

Every one of them had come from humble origins or been humbled by the ravages of the hard times in which they had grown up. Each in his own way, they had all learned that nothing could be taken for granted in life, that for all their strength and good looks and youth, forces were at work in the world that were greater than they.

“People in New York are all very tired looking, pale, & soft. The people seldom smile & don’t look healthy & full of vigor as out west.”

Every muscle, tendon, and ligament in their bodies was burning with pain, but they were rowing beyond pain, rowing in perfect, flawless harmony. Nothing was going to stop them.

Men as fit as you , when your everyday strength is gone, can draw on a mysterious reservoir of power far greater. Then it is that you can reach for the stars. That is the way champions are made.

when Joe realized with startling clarity that there was nothing more he could do to win the race, beyond what he was already doing. Except for one thing. He could finally abandon all doubt, trust absolutely without reservation that he and the boy in front of him and the boys behind him would all do precisely what they needed to do at precisely the instant they needed to do it. He had known in that instant that there could be no hesitation, no shred of indecision. He had had no choice but to throw himself into each stroke as if he were throwing himself off of a cliff into a void, with unquestioned faith that the others would be there to save him from catching the whole weight of the shell on his blade. And he had done it. Over and over, forty-four times per minute, he had hurled himself blindly into his future, not just believing but knowing that the other boys would be there for him, all of them, moment by precious moment.

Harmony, balance, and rhythm. They’re the three things that stay with you your whole life. Without them civilization is out of whack. And that’s why an oarsman, when he goes out in life, he can fight it, he can handle life. That’s what he gets from rowing.

“The eight oarsmen quietly shook hands, departed on different paths, and the crew that is hailed as the finest rowing combination of all time passed into history.”

 

500+ Chipotle Burritos Consumed

I still remember the first time I ever ate at Chipotle. At the time, compared to today, I was still a relatively picky eater. I was fifteen years old and I was over at a friend’s house. His parents offered to go grab us dinner, the restaurant of choice being Chipotle. I got a chicken burrito with black beans, rice, mild salsa, and cheese. Even though the combination of ingredients was unusual for me, from that first burrito Chipotle became one of my favorite places to eat.  There have been times where I have eaten it every day of the week for lunch, times when I ate it for both lunch and dinner, never growing tired of the food. It is one of those rare things that I can eat every day without ever being disappointed. Even cooler, it was started in Colorado, the place I have lived for my entire life. The original Chipotle is only about twenty minutes from the place that I currently live.

I know I am not alone in my love for the food that comes of out Chipotle restaurants. Several of my closest friends over the years are probably in the same boat. It was a regular lunch stop in high school, in college we had a tradition known as burrito Friday, and it is probably the restaurant that I have spent the most money on in the past ten years. Given that this is and has been the case, I have some interesting statistics that I analyzed during a stretch of free time.

In 2009 I signed up for www.mint.com, a service that tracks your spending over time to bank accounts that you link to the service. For the past three years I have kept current with the site, making sure that my accounts are continually synced with mint, enabling me to accurately see all cash inflows and outflows since 2011. The site also allows users to export the entire transaction history into a spreadsheet, which can be pivoted and manipulated to display the data as you see fit. Starting in May of 2011, I have record of every transaction that has occurred at Chipotle using my debit card. I found this to be rather amusing, and here are some of the main statistics from the data to date:

Number of visits: 124

Total $ spent: $1,080.04

Average $ spent per visit: $8.78 (I sometimes get guac, and often buy for two)

Number of different restaurants visited: 9

*Burritos purchased with cash and bought by others not included in totals

To me, looking at this stuff is pretty interesting. Assuming that my consumption of Chipotle has been relatively stable since I first ate there at 15, I have spent (or spent my parents money) over $4,000 on burritos. Let’s presume the average cost of the burritos over the years has been $7 (I didn’t always get guac). Although this is a rough estimate, it means I have probably eaten in the ballpark of 500-650 Chipotle burritos in my life. I am proud of that.

And since we are doing analysis using numbers, let’s look at the chipotle stock, which is something that I wish I had money to buy when the company went public. On the day of its IPO it traded for $46.55. Today one share of the stock is valued at $677.03. Not too bad, eh? And let’s look at it on a realistic scale. Let’s say in 2006, on IPO day, you invested $10,000 (214 shares). Today your $10,000 would be worth $135,441. Again, not bad eh? Especially for just investing in a restaurant that serves delicious and relatively healthy food. And if you look at my personal statistics with Chipotle consumption, I am not surprised by the uptick in the stock price. I am not alone in spending thousands of dollars on burritos. Some people probably have spent double, triple what I have.

What would your Chipotle statistics look like? You aren’t alone with having a love for the taste of a burrito wrapped in a silver lining.

Every penny that I have spent on a Chipotle burrito was a penny well spent.

Quora: Successful Person Vs. Average Person

How you measure success can be done in a dozen different ways. Some of them meaningful, some of them not so much. Once upon a time I might have tried to answer this question based on financial success, but now I will answer with a little more depth.

A successful person is the person who does everything they can to attain the life that they truly desire. In other words, when you are able to make your passions, your interests, the things that make you feel alive, become the roots of your existence. There are no limits to this, as humans all have different things that make them tick.

An average person is the person who never takes action on following through with their dreams. They might be financially successful by the standards of society, but they live a life that someone else laid out before them. Maybe once upon a time they dreamt of being a musician, but somewhere along the line they traded in their instrument for a quest of climbing some corporate ladder.

Often times when you have this discussion with people they try to argue that the former is nearly impossible. If you look at people who have made their dreams a reality, it wasn’t something that happened over night. It isn’t about quitting your job and risking becoming homeless to follow your dreams. It is about taking small steps. The reason not everyone does, or even tries to make their life revolve around their passions, is because it takes a shit load of work. It’s scary, it’s hard. And usually there is another safer path there waiting for you, the same one that everyone else is taking.

Here I will compare the lives of two different people. One who is financially successful, one who is successful in the sense I speak of above.

Big Tim graduated from college near the top of his class. Growing up he always had an amazing talent at design. In high school he used to spend his free time drawing sketches of elaborate buildings, homes, and other structures.  When he got to school, he didn’t really know what to study, so he got a business degree.

Big Tim ended up working for a big corporation in their supply chain group. After being there for twenty years, he makes well over six figures a year, drives a nice car and has a large house, but he dreads waking up each day. To him each day is almost the same as the day before. He hates Sundays, spends each week day looking forward to Friday, and isn’t very fond of the people he works with. Big Tim spends a lot of time thinking that somewhere along the lines he committed to a life that was one of the options offered to the average person of society, instead of the life he wanted. Only in hindsight does he realize that he gave up on the things he loved because he thought he was supposed to do something else.

##

Now let’s look at Phil. Ever since being introduced to video games as a kid, Phil became fascinated with the world of virtual reality. By the time middle school rolled around him and his friends used to get together and write out plots for games that they made up, design levels, and draw characters for these games. In high school Phil started to learn everything he could about how to develop his own game, teaching himself and learning from others on the internet.

When it came time for Phil to go to college, he ultimately opted out of it despite his parents’ wishes. Upon graduation Phil had already created his own video game, which he used to get a job at a small startup company. He loved the group he worked with, as they all had inherently similar interests, and they allowed him the creativity to make his ideas come to life. A few years later, Phil’s team released a game that attracted a large player base, enabling him to no longer have to worry about finances. Phil now spends every day around people he calls friends, doing work that revolves around a passion that he discovered as a child.

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To put it simply: Successful people are those who spend a little time each day on the things they love, working towards a vision they have in their head where those passions are what their days revolve around.

Of course, this is just the opinion I have about the subject.

Book Review: Lone Survivor – Marcus Luttrell

Overview: I decided to read this book after seeing the movie. Once I learned that it was written by the guy who survived this stint in hell, I had to see the written version of the story. As you would expect, there was a lot more detail in the book, and a lot more happened that the movie didn’t cover.

You could tell that Luttrell isn’t an expert writer, but the story was told well enough that I wanted to keep reading. Up front there is a lot of backstory on becoming a navy SEAL and everything that goes into it, and he really drove home a strong sense of arrogance about his SEAL status, and let out all of his biases about his political affiliation. Nonetheless, I learned a lot that I didn’t know about what it takes to become a SEAL (a lot of hell), which was worthwhile.

The story itself is what delivers. Four SEALs drop into Afghanistan to try to take out an important figure of the Taliban. While traversing a mountainside they run into a few goatherds, and decide to let them live (ultimately because they didn’t want to go to jail because of the rules of engagement policies for the USA). This leads to a battle – 150-200 Taliban vs four SEALs, on the side of a rocky mountain. What they go through is truly insane. They are shot, fall down multiple sections of the mountain, hit by RPG’s, and sent to hell in back, all while fighting until their very last breaths.

Luttrell manages to survive with the help of one of the nearby villages, when a doctor who finds him decides to declare Lohkay with him.  It essentially means that the village will fight to the death to protect the person from his enemy.

I won’t get into any more details, but it is an incredible story, and it will open your eyes up to a part of life you will likely never have to experience.

Lesson: Even when the odds are stacked against you in every possible way, there still might be a chance to overcome them all. To me, it is truly insane that he survived to tell his story. (many lessons could be found in this one, human kindness, evil, community, brotherhood, et cetera).

Important Passages (Per Sean):

“In times of uncertainty there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer our Nation’s call; a common man with uncommon desire to succeed. Forged by adversity, he stands alongside America’s finest special operations forces to serve his country and the American people, and to protect their way of life. I am that man.”

“I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies . If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.”

We train for war and fight to win. I stand ready to bring the full spectrum of combat power to bear in order to achieve my mission and the goals established by my country. The execution of my duties will be swift and violent when required, yet guided by the very principles I serve to defend.

There is no other way to beat a terrorist. You must fight like him, or he will surely kill you.

Because in the end, your enemy must ultimately fear you, understand your supremacy.

Those terrorist organizations laugh at the U.S. media, and they know exactly how to use the system against us.

It wasn’t anything for banks to make loans of more than $ 100 million to oil explorers and producers. At one time there were 4,500 oil rigs running in the U.S.A., most of them in Texas. Credit? That was easy. Banks would lend you a million bucks without batting an eye.

“One day I’m not gonna be here. Then it’s gonna be you two, by yourselves, and I want you to understand how rough and unfair this world is . I want you both prepared for whatever the hell might come your way.”

When a tribe accepts lokhay, it undertakes to safeguard and protect that individual from an enemy at all costs.

“ Marcus, the body can take damn near anything. It’s the mind that needs training. The question that guy was being asked involved mental strength. Can you handle such injustice? Can you cope with that kind of unfairness, that much of a setback? And still come back with your jaw set, still determined, swearing to God you will never quit? That’s what we’re looking for.”

He closed by telling us the real battle is won in the mind. It’s won by guys who understand their areas of weakness, who sit and think about it, plotting and planning to improve. Attending to the detail. Work on their weaknesses and overcome them. Because they can.

These terrorist/ insurgents know the rules as well as they did in Iraq . They’re not their rules. They’re our rules , the rules of the Western countries , the civilized side of the world. And every terrorist knows how to manipulate them in their own favor. Otherwise the camel drovers would be carrying guns.

I’d turned into a fucking liberal, a half-assed, no-logic nitwit, all heart, no brain, and the judgment of a jackrabbit.

I sang those words all night. I can’t tell you how much they meant to me. I can tell you, it’s little things like that, the words of a song, which can give you the strength to go on.

Lokhay means not only providing care and shelter, it means an unbreakable commitment to defend that wounded man to the death. And not just the death of the principal tribesman or family who made the original commitment for the giving of a pot. It means the whole damned village.

There’s nothing heroic about suicide bombers. They’re mostly just dumb, brainwashed kids, stoned out of their minds.

Some highly paid charlatans in the media think it’s absolutely fine to take a wild guess at the truth and then tell a couple of million people it’s cast-iron fact, just in case they might be right.

He was doing it not for personal gain but out of a sense of honor that reached back down the generations, two thousand years of Pashtunwalai tradition: You will defend your guest to the death.

Quora: What are the most common lies that people tell themselves?

We lie to ourselves all the time. Some of the lies are more dangerous than others. This is one of those that is a little more harmful.

(Insert thing here) is only temporary.

Jobs, relationship, laziness, eating habits, whatever. We tell ourselves that a given situation or a certain behavior will only last a little bit longer. We will do something about it and alter that thing that we know deep down is killing us (literally or figuratively). We tell ourselves these things but then change or do nothing even though we know we should. We just keep delaying action by telling ourselves again that it is all only temporary. But guess what, life itself is temporary. This lie doesn’t make sense.

This is why we end up running in place. It is why each day feels like the same as the day before. It is how people end up in a lifetime of a soul-suck job, they take bad relationships to the grave with them, it is how we get fat, why we never create anything, et cetera, et cetera.

I’ve mentioned this in my writing before, but this lie is a big component of why we don’t dip into our unlived lives. In other words, the life you would be living if you took a few more risks, followed through with your passions, were actively health conscious, the list could go on and on.

When this lie replaces action or change over and over again, it can snowball and lead us to a place we never wanted to end up in. The unfortunate thing is that almost all of us are guilty of this one.