Working for a high-maintenance wealthy woman can be quite stress-inducing, and I am constantly reminded of our income and cultural differences. Today, we spent a good hour at Pottery Barn because she was impatiently trying to explain that she wanted a duvet cover in Manderin. Okay, first of all, I speak Canto not Mando. And second, I only have a few things on my bed: a bedsheet, and some blankets. Now I know the difference between a flat sheet vs fitted sheet, duvet cover vs comforter, and a sham vs pillowcase. Link: http://www.verolinens.com/what-is-the-difference-between-a-pillowcase-a-sham/
I’m trying to be more open-minded, and I guess it helps to remind myself that this job pays for my Japan study abroad program (I leave in 14 days!!!) . I could have it a lot worst.
The weird thing is that the word “leader” itself is cliché and boring, but when you come across somebody who actually is a real leader, that person isn’t cliché or boring at all; in fact he’s sort of the opposite of cliché and boring.
Obviously, a real leader isn’t just somebody who has ideas you agree with, nor is it just somebody you happen to believe is a good guy. Think about it. A real leader is somebody who, because of his own particular power and charisma and example, is able to inspire people, with “inspire” being used here in a serious and non-cliché way. A real leader can somehow get us to do certain things that deep down we think are good and want to be able to do but usually can’t get ourselves to do on our own. It’s a mysterious quality, hard to define, but we always know it when we see it, even as kids. You can probably remember seeing it in certain really great coaches, or teachers, or some extremely cool older kid you “looked up to” (interesting phrase) and wanted to be just like. Some of us remember seeing the quality as kids in a minister or rabbi, or a scoutmaster, or a parent, or a friend’s parent, or a supervisor in a summer job. And yes, all these are “authority figures,” but it’s a special kind of authority. If you’ve ever spent time in the military, you know how incredibly easy it is to tell which of your superiors are real leaders and which aren’t, and how little rank has to do with it. A leader’s real “authority” is a power you voluntarily give him, and you grant him this authority not with resentment or resignation but happily; it feels right. Deep down, you almost always like how a real leader makes you feel, the way you find yourself working harder and pushing yourself and thinking in ways you couldn’t ever get to on your own.
In other words, a real leader is somebody who can help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear and get us to do better things than we can get ourselves to do on our own.
“I live my life, you live yours. If you’re clear about what you want, then you can live any way you please. I don’t give a damn what people say. They can be reptile food for all I care.”—Haruki Murakami - Dance Dance Dance (via murakamistuff)
For about 10 years, I worked full time in prisons as a teacher, logging more than 40 hours a week behind those fences, including a long winter at one facility that had been a cereal factory and stood near the highway in downtown Indianapolis. It was a rock of a building with finger-thick grilles on the windows.
During my first week there, an inmate laughed when I asked him to reset the wall clock.
“A few minutes off?” he said. “We need one that goes by months and years. What do we care about five minutes?”
I mention this only because his words summed up the love story that had defined my life. When my wife left me, I was living in Paris, which was not as romantic as it may sound because I was incredibly lonely. My bones ached, especially at the sound of accordions in train stations.
All my plans had come to nothing. I had failed at marriage, failed at work and had no money to speak of. Sometimes I would see my ex-wife on the street and she would turn away with an eagerness that could not be ignored.
One night I came upon two boys robbing an old Vietnamese man, and when I tried to intervene and make them stop, they turned on me. I began to wonder if maybe a part of me wanted to die.
I moved back to the United States and took the job in the prison. I met the inmate who helped me with the clock. I also met an inmate who had salt-and-pepper hair, huge biceps and a pair of ridiculous glasses no one in the free world would ever wear. This inmate’s name was Mike.
Mike showed me a folder of clippings and photocopied certificates from all the educational programs he had completed in prison. He had earned a G.E.D. and a bachelor’s degree, as well as certifications in the usual programs like small engine repair and barbering.
He had kept letters from his counselors, chaplains and teachers. In these letters, supervisor after supervisor claimed to love him, but it all struck me as kind of sad and awkward. I couldn’t read the whole thing.
I had my own problems. I had taken a tiny apartment and spent my evenings trying to write a book and corresponding with women I had met on the Internet. I took all my lost chances personally.
When I first met Mike, he said: “These young guys — they just got locked up and they’ve got five years to do and they hate it. I get that. When you’re 20, five years is a long time, so they act out. I used to be like that. But now I’m two-thirds done, so every day is taking me closer to the door. When I think like that, I can get up in the morning and smile.”
A month later, my supervisor told me Mike had been locked up for more than 16 years and had at least 8 more to go. Arrested when he was a teenager, he wasn’t going to be released until he was in his mid-40s. He had raped the sheriff’s daughter in his hometown. It didn’t matter how fat his folder of supportive letters got.
“I used to be angry,” Mike told me. “I’d pick fights over nothing. I was mad to be in prison and I wanted everyone else to be mad, too. But then I realized: Man, this is my life. Do I want to be that guy? Always mad? I’m not going to get married or have a family. Not today. Maybe never. I’m going to be here. I’m a prisoner. There are some things I’m never going to do. And I can spend my life being mad about that, or I can try something else.”
I asked him what he had decided.
“I decided to be the best prisoner I could be,” he said.
This all relates to the clock on the wall because I fell in love again, and this became my new life. She was from New Hampshire and had never been to France. She left me for two years to write a memoir about her mother, but then she came back. She wrote me letters and I felt I knew her entire apartment because I studied the tiny photos she sent me of her sitting at her desk or standing by her curtains.
We were married, but not before I went to New Hampshire and met her mother. That afternoon, her mother could barely look at me. She was 48 and very sick, just a few months away from being dead.
My wife drove me through her hometown and I saw the lake where she had spent her summers when she was a teenager, not quite 5 feet tall and voluptuous in swimsuits long gone. We ate ice cream and talked quietly in the afternoon. She held my hand. She gave me an expensive watch that I kept wearing even after the crystal was scratched.
Our son is from Ethiopia, where I once saw a dead horse on the side of the road that resembled an abandoned sofa. I asked a friend if we needed to do something about that, and he said the wild dogs would take care of it.
We took our son far away from all of that five years ago, which may seem like a kindness, except it also hurts. I wish our son could know those dirt roads and the way they looked like chocolate milk in the rain, the way the hillsides were a delicate green, the way our driver would not go into the zoo because he was disgusted by the concrete ugliness of the lion cages.
I wish my son’s birth parents could see him swimming. He’s such a good swimmer. I wish they could hear him reading books aloud. I wish he could know them. I wish our son could speak Oromo, the language of his birth. Our story, so full of love, is also full of loss.
When I was younger, I used to get up early in the morning to write. Now I get up early to make my son breakfast. I rarely stay up late. I like my job, but I have to work after dinner most nights. I can reach my laptop only if I lean over the pile of markers and a tiny Buzz Lightyear on my desk. My wife hasn’t worn a bikini for six years and probably never will again; she says she’s too old, which makes me sad.
She is a beautiful woman with gray in her hair. My parents no longer drive at night and have fewer and fewer hobbies. This summer my mother made a box of cookies just for my son, and I was happy to see them talking quietly in the kitchen.
I’m constantly aware of lost opportunities. I used to think such lost opportunities were beautiful towns flashing by my train windows, but now I imagine they are lanterns from the past, casting light on what’s ahead.
My life is constrained in hundreds of ways and will be for years as my son grows up and my wife and I grow older. I don’t know when I will return to Paris, if ever. I don’t know when or if I will finish my book.
I do know I love eating breakfast with my son. My wife wants us to open only one box of cereal at a time to keep the flakes from going stale, but my son and I get up first, so we eat what we want. We like to change. He gives me a thumbs-up whenever I open a new box.
In our family, we talk about our days and recount our “best part” and “worst part” at dinnertime. Last week, I was reading a bedtime story with my son and was distracted by the laptop and work waiting on my desk, but I turned to him and said, “We forgot ‘best part, worst part.’ What was the best part of your day?”
He pushed his chin into my shoulder and said: “This is, Daddy. This is.”
I felt a complete fool. I had to close my eyes for a moment. And then we agreed that his worst part was when he had cried about eating chickpeas.
When I was a boy, I hated beets. I hope I can protect my son from beets until he’s old enough to hold in the tears. They’re not worth it.
When the battery in my watch died, I still wore it. There was something about the watch that said: It doesn’t matter what time it is. Think in months. Years. Someone loves you. Where are you going? There are some things you will never do. It doesn’t matter. There is no rush. Be the best prisoner you can be.
Chris Huntington is the author of the novel “Mike Tyson Slept Here.” He lives in Singapore and is at work on a young-adult novel about a tri-racial family.
“I’m constantly aware of lost opportunities. I used to think such lost opportunities were beautiful towns flashing by my train windows, but now I imagine they are lanterns from the past, casting light on what’s ahead.” - probably one of my favorite quotes ever.
NEW TRACKS: Disclosure - ‘When A Fire Starts to Burn’
British brothers Disclosure have been blowing up the internet pretty regularly in the last month with insanely fun tracks to get your ass in gear. ‘When A Fire Starts To Burn’ is the one that has particularly stuck with us. You probably need this one to power you through your week, but be warned. You’re probably going to need to move to this, and your coworkers are just going to have to deal with it. Perhaps even consider sending a memo.
Debut album Settle is out now and well worth your legal dollars to provide perfect party tracks for your Summer.
If I need to get into work-mode (aka editing) at night, this is my song.
When I am in a foul mood, I have a surefire way to improve my outlook – I build something. A foul mood is a stubborn beast and it does not give ground easily. It is an effort to simply get past the foulness in order to start building, but once the building has begun, the foul beast loses ground.
I don’t know what cascading chemical awesomeness is going down in my brain when it detects and rewards me for the act of building, but I’m certain that the hormonal cocktail is the end result of millions of years of evolution. Part of the reason we’re at the top of the food chain is that we are chemically rewarded when we are industrious – it is evolutionarily advantageous to be productive.
And we’re slowly and deviously being trained to forget this.
A Day Full of Moments
Look around. If you’re in a group of people, count how many are lost in their digital devices as they sit there with a friend. If you’re in your office, count how many well-intentioned distractions are within arm’s reach and asking for your attention. I wonder how many of you will read this piece in one sitting – it’s only 844 words long.
The world built by the Internet is one of convenience. Buy anything without leaving your house. All knowledge is nearby and that’s a lot of knowledge, but don’t worry, everyone is pre-chewing it for you and sharing it in every way possible. They’re sharing that and other interesting moments all day and you’re beginning to believe that these shared moments are close to disposable because you are flooded with them.
You’re fucking swimming in everyone else’s moments, likes, and tweets and during these moments of consumption you are coming to believe that their brief interestingness to others makes it somehow relevant to you and worth your time.
The fact that the frequency of these interesting moments appears to be ever-growing and increasingly easy to find does not change the fact that your attention is finite. Each one you experience, each one you consume, is a moment of your life that you’ve spent forever.
These are other people’s moments.
These moments can be important. They can connect us to others; they briefly inform us as to the state of the world; they often hint at an important idea without actually explaining it by teasing us with the impression of knowledge. But they are often interesting, empty intellectual calories. They are sweet, addictive, and easy to find in our exploding digital world, and their omnipresence in my life and the lives of those around me has me starting this year asking, “Why am I spending so much time consuming other people’s moments?”
This is not a reminder to over-analyze each moment and make them count. This is a reminder not to let a digital world full of others’ moments deceive you into devaluing your own. Their moments are infinite – yours are finite and precious – and this New Year I’m wondering how much we want to create versus consume.
The Builders High
What’s the last thing you built when you got that high? You know that high I’m talking about? It’s staring at a thing that you brought into the world because you decided it needed to exist.
For me, the act of writing creates the builder’s high. Most pieces are 1000+ words. They involve three to five hours of writing, during which I’ll both hate and love the emerging piece. This is followed by another hour of editing and tweaking before I’ll publish the piece, and the high is always the same. I hit publish and I grin. That smile is my brain chemically reminding me, Hey, you just added something new to the world.
Is there a Facebook update that compares to building a thing? No, but I’d argue that 82 Facebook updates, 312 tweets, and all those delicious Instagram updates are giving you the same chemical impression that you’ve accomplished something of value. Whether it’s all the consumption or the sense of feeling busy, these micro-highs will never equal the high when you’ve actually built.
This New Year, I wish you more blank slates. May you have more blank white pages sitting in front you with your favorite pen nearby and at the ready. May you have blank screens in your code editor with your absolutely favorite color syntax highlighting. May your garage work table be empty save for a single large piece of reclaimed redwood and a saw.
Turn off those notifications, turn your phone over, turn on your favorite music, stare at your blank slate and consider what you might build. In that moment of consideration, you’re making an important decision: create or consume? The things we’re giving to the future are feeling increasingly unintentional and irrelevant. They are half-considered thoughts of others. When you choose to create, you’re bucking the trend because you’re choosing to take the time to build.
And that’s a great way to start the year.
And this is why I am leaning towards deactivating my FB in a few weeks. I need to start “building” more!
This may sound silly, but I like to wonder what people would have for breakfast—which people, as their breakfasts would be different—and where they would get those food items, and whether or not they would say a prayer over them, and how they would pay for them, and what they would wear during that meal, and, if cooked, how, and what sort of bed they would have arisen from, and what else they might be doing while having the breakfast—talking to someone (who), in person or on a device (what?), and who would be allowed to do that, and what they might feel safe in saying. Breakfast can take you quite far.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”—"The Man in the Arena" by Theodore Roosevelt (via youmightfindyourself)