Book Review: When I Stop Talking You’ll Know I’m Dead – Jerry Weintraub

Overview: When I started reading this book I didn’t realize that Jerry Weintraub passed away in July of 2015. I found out shortly after I got into it, but for whatever reason it made it seem a little more important to be reading it. This book is basically the autobiography of Weintraub’s life, and holy shit, what a life it seems to have been. He worked with some of the biggest Hollywood celebrities, in both the music and film industries. Early on he worked with Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, and Neil Diamond. Later he produced his own films, the Ocean’s series and The Karate Kid being the most notable. Reading about the journey Weintraub took through his career was extremely inspiring. He was a creative man who went to great lengths to make his ideas a reality. To me he seems to be a prime example of someone who had the skills and confidence to see his ideas through to fruition.

I recommend this to anyone. Jerry had a story worth telling, and his story provided an almost nonstop feeling of motivation as I read it.

Lessons: You can have control over your life and your career. There are things that may make it more difficult and obstacles will get in the way, but really with the right mindset and determination, we can take a hold of things and make even our wildest dreams come true.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

Now, at seventy-two, I realize every minute doing one thing is a minute not doing something else, every choice is another choice not made, another path grown over and lost. If asked my philosophy, it would be simply this: Savor life, don’t press too hard, don’t worry too much. Or as the old-timers say, “Enjoy.”

You might have the greatest talent in the world, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t sell it.

People will pay you to make their lives easier; always take the time to make the pitch; personal service is the name of the game; never get paid once for doing something twice.

There are all kinds of ways to deal with an adversary: fists, words, taunts, compromise, submission, complaint, and courts-martial.

This much I knew: As soon as you feel comfortable, that’s when it’s time to start over.

If you knew how time works, you would never do anything.

At the end of the day, write down exactly what you have. Put that number in your left pocket . Then write down exactly what you owe. Put that number in your right pocket. As long as the number in your left pocket is bigger than the number in your right pocket, you will have a good life.

It taught me about the rise and fall of empires, the fickle nature of fame. The point is, do not get attached to the world as it is, because the world is changing, something new is coming, every ten years a big hand comes down and sweeps the dishes off the table.

When the game changes, you have to change with it. The more you change, the more you risk in order to survive— and it gets harder and scarier as you get older.

It was exhilarating —not quitting Lew, because I loved Lew, but taking control of my life and my career, choosing, saying, “I want to do this, not that.” That’s freedom— that’s all it really is.

I don’t call it a mistake, because our son Michael, who is wonderful, my best friend in the world, came out of that marriage.

As I’ve said, my life has been a succession of mentors, but first among these, the person most responsible for making my career, was Jane Morgan.

A lot depends on who you know, who you can get to. If you have people who will open the door for you, literally and figuratively, you can make a pitch. It’s in your hands from there.

And, as I explained, nothing is more important than a relationship . It trumps politics, party, club. People are what matter.

Life is strange— you travel so far, do so much, but the people you look for at the end are often the same people you looked for at the beginning.

If there’s one piece of advice I can give to young people, to kids trying to break out of Brooklyn and Kankakee, it’s this: persist, push, hang on, keep going, never give up. When the man says no, pretend you can’t hear him.

I would never sell an idea like this on the phone. It’s still that way. I need to sit with a person, to watch him, read his eyes and hands, see if he is just as excited as I am, if I’m coming across.

There’s something to be learned from this story. It shows how, even if you have the greatest script in the world, it won’t work if the actors don’t play their parts.

There is a lesson in this: Let the other guy save face with his people, but keep score.

This is another part of the job: being able to cross frontiers, move from culture to culture, making everyone believe you are a fully committed citizen of each.

He began to acquire things, which is how an ordinary man becomes a titan.

I’m not saying you should fake a heart attack every time, only in a pinch.

It was as if the president had died. The streets were lined with people, black people and white people and children and babies. In a crazy way, it was very much the ideal of America, what our country should be about.

The experience taught an important lesson: Work with the best people. If you have the best writers, the best actors, and the best director and fail, okay , fine, there is even something noble in it; but if you fail with garbage, then you are left with nothing to hang your spirits on. Besides, life is too short to be spent in the company of morons.

In the end, though, I think your outlook has less to do with money than with the values your parents exhibit and your own nature. In this, I’ve been neither perfect nor blameless. I love my children and I think I have been a good father, but there were times when I chose my career over the life of the house. Was I there for every recital, or play, or concert? No, I was working. It’s nearly impossible to succeed in the world and also succeed in the house , which means, at some level, even if you do not realize it, you make a choice. This is a regret . I wish I had been there more, had done better, had given my children as much as my parents gave me. I did not. I was always divided, being pulled away, on the phone, and so forth. But maybe you do best by being true to your nature. Whatever my children have lost to my work habits, they have made back in the privileges afforded them by my success . I could not give them what my parents gave me, so I gave them the world instead.

You have to be willing to walk away from the most comfortable perch, precisely because it is the most comfortable.

As long as you’re here, you might as well smile.

I don’t care if you get flattened a thousand times. As long as you get up that thousand-and-first time, you win.

Nowadays, with the medicine and the longevity we have, when you marry somebody , you are in it for a very, very long time. I don’t know if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. It’s not for me, anyway.

We are all walking on a wire. The key is to behave as if you will live forever.

Most important, I was never afraid to fail, which meant I was never afraid to try. I was never afraid to look silly, which meant I was never threatened by a new idea. I see the road ahead, too, a stretch that bends into the undergrowth. I do not know what will happen there, but I do know, whatever it is, I will rush to meet it with joy. This is, after all, a Jerry Weintraub Production.

Book Review: Pirate Hunters – Robert Kurson

Overview: I think I found out about his book because I heard the author on James Altucher’s podcast. This book delves into the quest of two men, John Chatterton and John Mattera, as they scavenge the waters around the Dominican Republic in search for a pirate ship that sunk in 1686. The ship was commanded by a legendary pirate named Joseph Bannister, and the ship was known as The Golden Fleece. Bannister was best known for going down fighting the Royal Navy. The author, Robert Kurson, gives a detailed account of the two men’s journey as they struggle to put the pieces together to find the spot where the ship sank. It is a beautiful journey through history revolving around one of the craziest walks of life in recorded history.

The men ultimately do find the wreck under increasing pressure and political turmoil. I found that Kurson did a great job revealing a piece of history that is definitely not known by many.

Lesson: Sometimes to recover the greatest artifacts of our times we must study the history as deeply and as thoroughly possible. If you can put yourself in the shoes of people of past you might just start to think like they once did. In turn, you might discover things that no one else ever has.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

So I knew about the Golden Age, which lasted from about 1650 to 1720.

If nothing else, Bowden told great stories, and in treasure hunting, stories were the next best thing to gold.

The only way to see what really mattered in life was to go to the places that were hardest to reach.

“Bannister was a born leader,” Garcia-Alecont said. “He had an instinct to lead men to greatness. If you have that quality you must act on it. But you can’t do it carrying sugar and animal hides across the Atlantic. And if you’re thirty-five or forty years old, as I’m guessing Bannister was, it’s too late to go do it in the navy. But you can do it on a pirate ship. And you can keep doing it as long as men believe in you. If men believe in you, you can even defeat the Royal Navy.”

Even at age eight the ordinary bored him, and so much of what he saw in Garden City seemed ordinary to him.

—If an undertaking was easy, someone else already would have done it.

—Excellence is born of preparation, dedication, focus, and tenacity; compromise on any of these and you become average. —Every so often, life presents a great moment of decision, an intersection at which a man must decide to stop or go; a person lives with these decisions forever.

—It is easiest to live with a decision if it is based on an earnest sense of right and wrong.

—Do it now. Tomorrow is promised to no one.

But as he reached over the breakfast table to shake hands with Mattera, he had only one idea in his mind: Do it now. Tomorrow is promised to no one.

He didn’t cry at the funeral. He just looked out at the world, knowing it was finally too late for his father to have an adventure, and nothing seemed in color anymore.

Treasure shows who you really are. It strips away every façade you’ve constructed, every story you believe about yourself, and reveals the real you. If you are a miserable, lying, greedy, worthless fuck, treasure will tell you that.

In 1670, England and Spain signed the Treaty of Madrid. Among other things, it called for England to condemn piracy— no more privateer licenses, no more safe havens, no more markets for stolen Spanish goods. In return, Spain made concessions to English trade and shipping.

“When a ship has been captured, the men decide whether the captain should keep it or not.”

BEFORE EVERY VOYAGE, PIRATES gathered together to commit an unthinkable act: They made every crewman an equal. From the greenest of lookouts to the captain himself, no one would own rights over any other or possess privileges unavailable to all.

The captain would exercise absolute authority only in battle; at other times, he would guide the ship according to the pleasure of the crew.

To Mattera, the lesson was clear: A person had to go when his heart told him to go. Even if he didn’t know how the journey would end.

Book Review: The Art of Learning – Josh Waitzkin

Overview: Josh Waitzkin, the author of the book, is the guy who the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer was based on. He became a chess God at a young age and went on to compete at high levels of martial arts. When he was young he might not have had as much of an awareness of his learning process and how to refine it, in this book he breaks down how he obtained mastery in both chess, and later in martial arts. Waitzkin takes us down a path of understanding how to learn to eventually become a top performer in a field. It is both intriguing and entertaining reading about someone analyzing all of the trials and progressions of their path to becoming a master.

Lesson: A lot of different things can be derived from this book, but for me the one that resonated the most to me was this, taken straight from the text:

In every discipline , the ability to be clearheaded, present, cool under fire is much of what separates the best from the mediocre.

Look at any of the greatest performers in any discipline. They all are able to stay clearheaded and present even when the pressure is at its greatest.

Important Passages (per Sean):

This might sound like a dream for a seventeen-year-old boy, and I won’t deny enjoying the attention, but professionally it was a nightmare. My game began to unravel. I caught myself thinking about how I looked thinking instead of losing myself in thought. The Grandmasters, my elders, were ignored and scowled at me. Some of them treated me like a pariah. I had won eight national championships and had more fans, public support and recognition than I could dream of, but none of this was helping my search for excellence, let alone for happiness.

What I have realized is that what I am best at is not Tai Chi, and it is not chess— what I am best at is the art of learning. This book is the story of my method.

If I disagreed with him, we would have a discussion, not a lecture.

I learned at sea that virtually all situations can be handled as long as presence of mind is maintained.

Learning theorists, on the other hand, are given feedback that is more process-oriented.

Studies have shown that in just minutes, kids can be conditioned into having a healthy learning theory for a given situation.

The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety.

In the long run, painful losses may prove much more valuable than wins— those who are armed with a healthy attitude and are able to draw wisdom from every experience, “good” or “bad,” are the ones who make it down the road.

Of course the real challenge is to stay in range of this long-term perspective when you are under fire and hurting in the middle of the war. This, maybe our biggest hurdle, is at the core of the art of learning.

One idea I taught was the importance of regaining presence and clarity of mind after making a serious error. This is a hard lesson for all competitors and performers. The first mistake rarely proves disastrous, but the downward spiral of the second, third, and fourth error creates a devastating chain reaction.

I believe that one of the most critical factors in the transition to becoming a conscious high performer is the degree to which your relationship to your pursuit stays in harmony with your unique disposition.

The human mind defines things in relation to one another— without light the notion of darkness would be unintelligible

My emotional state was bizarre. I had just lost the World Championship and the love of my young life, and I hadn’t slept in six days, but I was more alive than ever before.

I have long believed that if a student of virtually any discipline could avoid ever repeating the same mistake twice—both technical and psychological— he or she would skyrocket to the top of their field.

The learning principle is to plunge into the detailed mystery of the micro in order to understand what makes the macro tick.

Depth beats breadth any day of the week, because it opens a channel for the intangible, unconscious, creative components of our hidden potential.

If I want to be the best, I have to take risks others would avoid, always optimizing the learning potential of the moment and turning adversity to my advantage.

When aiming for the top, your path requires an engaged, searching mind. You have to make obstacles spur you to creative new angles in the learning process. Let setbacks deepen your resolve. You should always come off an injury or a loss better than when you went down.

In every discipline , the ability to be clearheaded, present, cool under fire is much of what separates the best from the mediocre.

At LGE they had discovered that there is a clear physiological connection when it comes to recovery— cardiovascular interval training can have a profound effect on your ability to quickly release tension and recover from mental exhaustion. What is more, physical flushing and mental clarity are very much intertwined.

Presence has taught me how to live.

But, when our emotions overwhelm us, we can get sloppy. If fear reduces us to tears, we might not act effectively in a genuinely dangerous situation. If we seethe when someone crosses us, we may make decisions we come to regret. If we get giddy when things are looking up, we will probably make some careless mistakes that turn our good situation upside down.

There will always be creeps in the world, and I had to learn how to deal with them with a cool head. Getting pissed off would get me nowhere in life.

If I have learned anything over my first twenty-nine years, it is that we cannot calculate our important contests, adventures, and great loves to the end. The only thing we can really count on is getting surprised. No matter how much preparation we do, in the real tests of our lives, we’ll be in unfamiliar terrain. Conditions might not be calm or reasonable. It may feel as though the whole world is stacked against us. This is when we have to perform better than we ever conceived of performing. I believe the key is to have prepared in a manner that allows for inspiration, to have laid the foundation for us to create under the wildest pressures we ever imagined.

Book Review: In a Sunburned Country – Bill Bryson

Overview: Before I read this book when I thought of Australia I thought of a sunny country where the people had funny accents. Now I view it as a vast death trap with a low overall population density. As this book explains, for having so much life and such a unique landscape, Australia rarely gains attention in the limelight. Bryson goes out of his way to visit the land down under and he writes about his experiences as he travels through the country learning about the current state as well as the history of Australia. I enjoyed his comedic writing style along with all of the information he presents. Definitely worth reading for anyone who wants to learn a bit more about the often overlooked country. And, who wouldn’t want to read about a place that has so many naturally occurring things that can kill a human being?

Lesson: Pretty simple. Australia is a one of a kind place and people who don’t live there hardly know anything about it.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

Australians can’t bear it that we pay so little attention to them, and I don’t blame them. This is a country where interesting things happen, and all the time.

Eighty percent of all that lives in Australia, plant and animal, exists nowhere else.

Australia is the driest, flattest, hottest, most desiccated, infertile, and climatically aggressive of all the inhabited continents. (Only Antarctica is more hostile to life.)

It occurred to me that Australians are so surrounded with danger that they have evolved an entirely new vocabulary to deal with it.

We wanted proper outback: a place where men were men and sheep were nervous.

By the late eighteenth century Britain’s statute books were weighty with capital offenses; you could be hanged for any of two hundred acts, including, notably, “impersonating an Egyptian.” In such circumstances, transportation was quite a merciful alternative.

But all of these are as nothing compared with the delicate and diaphanous box jellyfish, the most poisonous creature on earth.

I might have missed something good, but I will say this: when our modern monuments have crumbled to dust, when the careless hand of time has worn away all traces of the twentieth century, you can be certain that somewhere in an Australian country town there will be a disc jockey saying, “And that was Doris Day with her classic hit ‘Que Sera, Sera.’” I even loved that, too.

He was clearly from the other, heartier school of Australian archetypes— the one that thinks that any bloke not lucky enough to be born in Australia is tragically ill favored by fate and probably has a tiny dick as well, poor bastard.

Imagine a very committed funeral home director— someone whose burning ambition from the age of eleven was to be a funeral home director, whose proudest achievement in adulthood was to be elected president of the Queanbeyan and District Funeral Home Directors Association— then halve his personality and halve it again, and you have pretty well got John Howard.

It is a fact little noted that the Aborigines have the oldest continuously maintained culture on earth, and their art goes back to the very roots of it.

It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect.

In Britain the average population density is 632 people per square mile; in the United States the average is 76; across the world as a whole it is 117 . (And, just for interest, in Macao, the record holder, it is a decidedly snug 69,000 people per square mile.) The Australian average, by contrast, is 6 people per square mile.

That’s the thing about Australia, you see. It teems with interesting stuff, but at the same time it’s so vast and empty and forbidding that it generally takes a remarkable stroke of luck to find it.

The story of Kelly is easily told. He was a murderous thug who deserved to be hanged and was. He came from a family of rough Irish squatters, who made their living by stealing livestock and waylaying innocent passersby. Like most bushrangers, he was at pains to present himself as a champion of the oppressed, though in fact there wasn’t a shred of nobility in his character or his deeds. He killed several people, often in cold blood, sometimes for no very good reason.

Well, call me a Whimp, drop a brick shithouse on me, but I can honestly say that I have never seen anything so wonderfully, so delightfully, so monumentally bad as Ned Kelly’s Last Stand. It was so bad it was worth every penny. Actually it was so bad it was worth more than we paid.

Today the evidence points to an arrival date of at least 45,000 years ago, but probably more like 60,000. The first occupants of Australia could not have walked there because at no point in human times has Australia not been an island. They could not have arisen independently because Australia has no apelike creatures from which humans could have descended. The first arrivals could only have come by sea, presumably from Timor in the Indonesian archipelago, and here is where the problems arise.

It is generally accepted that the Aborigines have the oldest continuously maintained culture in the world.

Visually, almost every arrestingly regrettable thing in Alice Springs was a product of American enterprise, from people who couldn’t know that they had helped to drain the distinctiveness from an outback town and doubtless wouldn’t see it that way anyway.

Until the 1960s in most Australian states, Aboriginal parents did not have legal custody of their own children. The state did. The state could take children from their homes at any time, on any basis it deemed appropriate, without apology or explanation.

No other nation lost more men as a proportion of population in World War I than Australia.

Book Review: The Martian – Andy Weir

Overview: I found this book through James Altucher’s podcast. He has mentioned it in several, and when he had the author himself on I decided to read the book. James spoke highly of it and I wasn’t disappointed.

It is the story of how Mark Watney gets left behind on Mars when his crew is forced to abandon him. While his crew believes him to be dead, he ends up living through the dust storm that caused his team to leave him. Initially the odds look bleak that he will be able to survive long enough for him to be rescued, but through creativity and a background as an engineer botanist, he surprises even himself.

Weir does a great job at making it feel like Mark Watney’s survival is fully possible, and he taps into the rarely seen instance where the entire world is pulling for the same cause and the same outcome for that cause. Without wanting to give any spoilers, I will just say that it was well worth the read and I would recommend it to anyone.

Lesson: Even when you think you are fucked, there is still probably a way to find the optimal outcome.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

All that work was great for my morale. It gave me something to do. But after things settled down a bit, and I had dinner while listening to Johanssen’s Beatles music collection, I got depressed again.

They say no plan survives first contact with implementation. I’d have to agree.

How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals ! Makes no sense.

The whole time I was recovering Pathfinder, I imagined what this moment would be like. I figured I’d jump up and down a bit, cheer, maybe flip off the ground ( because this whole damn planet is my enemy), but that’s not what happened. When I got back to the Hab and took off the EVA suit, I sat down in the dirt and cried.

Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum . Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.

Only an idiot would keep that thing near the Hab. So anyway, I brought it back to the Hab.

Mindy said. “It’s not like we can do anything about it if he falls behind. This is a pointless task.” “How long have you worked for the government?” Venkat sighed.

I mostly watch crappy seventies TV. I’m indistinguishable from an unemployed guy for most of the day.

The lunatics at NASA have me doing all kinds of rape to the MAV, but I don’t have to open the hull till the end.

If I survive this, I’ll tell people I was pissing rocket fuel.

It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.

But really, they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it’s true.

Book Review: Endurance – Alfred Lansing

Overview: This book was amazing. Lansing tells the story of Earnest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which was an attempt to cross the Antarctic continent overland from west to east for the first time in recorded history. The party set out in 1915 in a ship called the Endurance. Shackleton’s crew consisted of twenty-eight men. After getting stuck in the ice, the elements at sea literally crushed the ship and left the entire crew stranded on the ice floe with nothing more than the supplies they could salvage from the ship, their pack dogs, and three life boats. Determined to survive, Shackleton led the men through months of freezing weather over sheets of ice in one of the most desolate places on earth. The things that the men endure are insane and it provides insight into what the human body can tolerate, and how in modern civilization we take for granted the relative comfort we perpetually exist in, especially when it comes to temperature. Between the months on the ice, open boat journeys through the sea, the entire crew of the Endurance ends up surviving, which is almost hard to believe. I recommend this book to everyone.

Lesson: To me this was an important lesson in history and a look into a world of an adventure most people would never dare be involved with. It was one hundred years ago now that Shackleton started his journey, and in those one hundred years life has changed drastically. It amazes me what the men were able to endure during their journey at a frozen sea. Mentally and physically, Shackleton’s men showed next level strength.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

It was, perhaps, the attitude of the men. They worked with a deliberate urgency, hardly speaking to one another . There was no display of alarm, however. In fact, apart from the movement of the ice and the sounds from the ship , the scene was one of relative calm. The temperature was 8 ½ degrees below zero, and a light southerly wind was blowing. Overhead, the twilight sky was clear.

The goal of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition , as its name implies, was to cross the Antarctic continent overland from west to east.

Shackleton’s unwillingness to succumb to the demands of everyday life and his insatiable excitement with unrealistic ventures left him open to the accusation of being basically immature and irresponsible. And very possibly he was— by conventional standards. But the great leaders of historical record— the Napoleons, the Nelsons, the Alexanders— have rarely fitted any conventional mold, and it is perhaps an injustice to evaluate them in ordinary terms. There can be little doubt that Shackleton, in his way, was an extraordinary leader of men.

In all the world there is no desolation more complete than the polar night. It is a return to the Ice Age— no warmth, no life, no movement. Only those who have experienced it can fully appreciate what it means to be without the sun day after day and week after week. Few men unaccustomed to it can fight off its effects altogether, and it has driven some men mad.

From studying the outcome of past expeditions, he believed that those that burdened themselves with equipment to meet every contingency had fared much worse than those that had sacrificed total preparedness for speed.

The adaptability of the human creature is such that they actually had to remind themselves on occasion of their desperate circumstances.

Though he was virtually fearless in the physical sense, he suffered an almost pathological dread of losing control of the situation.

Shackleton felt that if dissension arose, the party as a whole might not put forth that added ounce of energy which could mean, at a time of crisis, the difference between survival and defeat. Thus he was prepared to go to almost any length to keep the party close-knit and under his control.

In some ways they had come to know themselves better. In this lonely world of ice and emptiness , they had achieved at least a limited kind of contentment. They had been tested and found not wanting.

Each day blurred anonymously into the one before. Though they invariably tried to see the good side of things, they were unable to fight off a growing sense of disappointment.

But Shackleton was not an ordinary individual. He was a man who believed completely in his own invincibility, and to whom defeat was a reflection of personal inadequacy. What might have been an act of reasonable caution to the average person was to Shackleton a detestable admission that failure was a possibility.

Each day became so much like the one before that any unusual occurrence, however small, generated enormous interest.

For the first time in 497 days they were on land. Solid, unsinkable, immovable, blessed land.

No matter what the odds, a man does not pin his last hope for survival on something and then expect that it will fail.

More and more, as the days wore on, they fell inescapably into the routine of their existence.

Unlike the land, where courage and the simple will to endure can often see a man through, the struggle against the sea is an act of physical combat, and there is no escape. It is a battle against a tireless enemy in which man never actually wins; the most that he can hope for is not to be defeated.

Again and again the cycle was repeated until the body and the mind arrived at a state of numbness in which the frenzied antics of the boat, the perpetual cold and wet came to be accepted almost as normal.

But sufficiently provoked, there is hardly a creature on God’s earth that ultimately won’t turn and attempt to fight, regardless of the odds. In an unspoken sense, that was much the way they felt now. They were possessed by an angry determination to see the journey through— no matter what. They felt that they had earned it. For thirteen days they had absorbed everything that the Drake Passage could throw at them—and now, by God, they deserved to make it.

They looked up against the darkening sky and saw the fog curling over the edge of the ridges, perhaps 2,000 feet above them— and they felt that special kind of pride of a person who in a foolish moment accepts an impossible dare— then pulls it off to perfection.

A peculiar thing to stir a man— the sound of a factory whistle heard on a mountainside. But for them it was the first sound from the outside world that they had heard since December , 1914— seventeen unbelievable months before.

Book Review: Tiny Beautiful Things – Cheryl Strayed

Overview: Like many of the books I read, I discovered this one through Ryan Holiday’s monthly email for book recommendations. At first when I saw it on his list I overlooked it as something that I wouldn’t enjoy, but after some further thinking and research I ended up picking it up and reading it and thoroughly enjoying it. In her book, Cheryl Strayed takes questions from readers and answers them the best she can, using reason and her own life experiences to relate to the people asking her questions. The questions asked take on all sorts of different flavors and intensity, hitting on all of the most difficult subjects of our lives. She gives great insight and seems to have the mind of someone who has handled a lot and done a lot of thinking along the way. She seems like that voice in your head that you wish you could consult at all times, I highly recommend this book to everyone. I haven’t read the chicken soup books for teenagers since I was a teenager, but I would consider this to be one of those books on steroids.

Lesson: There are a lot of lessons to be found in this book, as a lesson is basically presented in every single question that she answers. The overarching lesson within each story is that life isn’t always an easy thing to navigate, and there is never going to be one right path where you get out at the end without any scars.

Important Passages (Per Sean):

Inexplicable sorrows await all of us. That was her essential point. Life isn’t some narcissistic game you play online. It all matters— every sin, every regret, every affliction

With great patience, and eloquence, she assures her readers that within the chaos of our shame and disappointment and rage there is meaning, and within that meaning is the possibility of rescue.

She understands that attention is the first and final act of love, and that the ultimate dwindling resource in the human arrangement isn’t cheap oil or potable water or even common sense, but mercy.

The people who squawk the loudest about such things have almost never had to get over anything . Or at least not anything that was genuinely, mind-fuckingly, soul-crushingly life altering.

I had not lived a sheltered life. I’d had my share of hardships and sorrows. I thought I knew how the world worked, but this I could not believe. I thought that if it was known that bad things were happening to children, those bad things would be stopped. But that is not the sort of society we live in, I realized. There is no such society.

We are all entitled to our opinions and religious beliefs, but we are not entitled to make shit up and then use the shit we made up to oppress other people.

Accounting for what happened in our childhoods and why and who our parents are and how they succeeded and failed us is the work we all do when we do the work of becoming whole, grown-up people. That reckoning is especially fraught when a parent has failed a child and so I advise you to (a) do everything in your power to thwart a fail between your child and his or her father, and (b) keep yourself from failing, should the father of your child persist in doing so.

Not because you’re obligated to the man— you owe him nothing— but because you’re obligated to your child.

That’s fine because what I remember about the study most vividly is really just one thing : that it’s devastating for a child to hear one parent speak ill of the other. In fact, so much so that the researchers found it was less psychologically damaging if a parent said directly to the child You are a worthless piece of shit than it was for a parent to say Your mother/ father is a worthless piece of shit.

Your behavior and words will deeply impact your child’s life— both how he or she feels about his or her father and also how he or she feels about him or herself.

It’s what most of us have to give a few times over the course of our lives: to love with a mindfully clear sense of purpose, even when it feels outrageous to do so. Even when you’d rather put on your steel-toed boots and scream.

Trust yourself. It’s Sugar’s golden rule. Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.

The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and a motherfucker. It is not fragility. It’s strength . It’s nerve. And “if your Nerve, deny you—,” as Emily Dickinson wrote, “go above your Nerve.” Writing is hard for every last one of us— straight white men included. Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig.

The story of human intimacy is one of constantly allowing ourselves to see those we love most deeply in a new, more fractured light. Look hard. Risk that.

Of this I am absolutely sure: Do not reach the era of child-rearing and real jobs with a guitar case full of crushing regret for all the things you wished you’d done in your youth. I know too many people who didn’t do those things. They all end up mingy, addled, shrink -wrapped versions of the people they intended to be.

But compassion isn’t about solutions. It’s about giving all the love that you’ve got.

People die because they want who they want. They do all kinds of crazy, stupid, sweet, tender, amazing, self-destructive things. You aren’t going to make anyone “see the light and realize that what they’re doing is wrong.” You just aren’t.

My whole view of the world has gone dim. People are capable of the most astonishing and selfish acts. I used to focus on pursuing real joy and delight in my life, and sharing that joy, too. But now it feels like that light has gone out forever.

Acceptance has everything to do with simplicity, with sitting in the ordinary place, with bearing witness to the plain facts of our life, with not just starting at the essential, but ending up there.

I have breathed my way through so many people who I felt wronged by; through so many situations I couldn’t change. Sometimes while doing this I have breathed in acceptance and breathed out love. Sometimes I’ve breathed in gratitude and out forgiveness. Sometimes I haven’t been able to muster anything beyond the breath itself, my mind forced blank with nothing but the desire to be free of sorrow and rage.

You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got . You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that’s all.

But I do know that we are here, all of us— beasts and monsters and beauties and wallflowers alike— to do the best we can. And every last one of us can do better than give up.

Something ugly happened to you and you didn’t let it make you ugly.

I feel stuck. I want to leave , but I’m also terrified of hurting my husband, who has been so good to me and who I consider my best friend.

Forgiveness means you’ve found a way forward that acknowledges harm done and hurt caused without letting either your anger or your pain rule your life or define your relationship with the one who did you wrong.

No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you. Self-pity is a dead-end road. You make the choice to drive down it. It’s up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out.

You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding.

I believe there is something bigger than our individual selves that we can touch when we live our lives with integrity, compassion, and love.

He manipulates them with kindness as easily as he manipulates them with terror, and when he does that, things are fine for a week, then get bad again.

It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. And you’re going to bawl your head off doing it. But I promise you it will be okay. Your tears will be born of grief, but also of relief. You will be better for them. They will make you harder, softer, cleaner, dirtier. Free.

The narratives we create in order to justify our actions and choices become in so many ways who we are. They are the things we say back to ourselves to explain our complicated lives.

I’d give it all back in a snap, but the fact is, my grief taught me things. It showed me shades and hues I couldn’t have otherwise seen. It required me to suffer. It compelled me to reach.

Don’t stay when you know you should go or go when you know you should stay. Don’t fight when you should hold steady or hold steady when you should fight. Don’t focus on the short-term fun instead of the long-term fallout. Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore . Don’t seek joy at all costs. I know it’s hard to know what to do when you have a conflicting set of emotions and desires, but it’s not as hard as we pretend it is. Saying it’s hard is ultimately a justification to do whatever seems like the easiest thing to do— have the affair, stay at that horrible job, end a friendship over a slight, keep loving someone who treats you terribly. I don’t think there’s a single dumbass thing I’ve done in my adult life that I didn’t know was a dumbass thing to do while I was doing it. Even when I justified it to myself— as I did every damn time— the truest part of me knew I was doing the wrong thing. Always. As the years pass, I’m learning how to better trust my gut and not do the wrong thing, but every so often I get a harsh reminder that I’ve still got work to do.

Art isn’t anecdote. It’s the consciousness we bring to bear on our lives. For what happened in the story to transcend the limits of the personal, it must be driven by the engine of what the story means.

No matter what happens when it comes to your marriage or your work life or your geographical location, there is no being torn when it comes to your daughter unless you choose to rip the fabric yourself.

When it comes to our children, we do not have the luxury of despair. If we rise, they will rise with us every time, no matter how many times we’ve fallen before.