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Catharsis

March 3, 2011 — 8 Comments

There is the impulse when we’re angry or frustrated to take that out on other people. To be short or cruel just to slacken the tension we’ve built up. Sometimes it is harsh words, sometimes it is violence but it’s the same release. I think about that scene in Fight Club where Jack funnels all his rage and pain into destroying Angel Face.

Obviously the appropriate response is to process it, to dissipate it through evaluation and verbalization. I realized the other day that the reason I like running is because it’s inner-directional. All athletic activity is cathartic. Running takes that catharsis out on ourselves. Which honestly, is the only place it should go.

Feel disappointed in yourself, go further than you intended. Feel angry, punish yourself by turning up the treadmill. Just fucking sick of it all, go long and hard—excel. Tired? Fuck you, go faster. You were going to stop? A few more steps.

Think about what it means to play other sports with a vengence. It’s normally characterized by aggression projected outwardly at someone else. It’s never how fast they got back on defense. Never how willing they were to dive perilously for a catch. Never the restraint they showed at bad pitches. It’s about hard they hit someone else, the punishment they inflicted on someone’s body or face, how they’re “taking over the game.”

There is this notion in philosophy about retreating inside yourself. And finding a respite in doing so. In fact, not just a break but a refueling. “Love the discipline you know,” Marcus said, “and let it support you.” The idea is to find solace in self-control, rather than some brief satisfaction in abandoning it.

What I like is the process of using the treadmill to take it out on yourself. Because you know your body can handle the brunt of it. Instead of inevitably taking it out on other people, either literally so in a different sport or in the course of daily life. To walk away and be able to look at things fresh, knowing that whatever baggage you bring to a given situation has no place on other people’s shoulders or in their laps. To have a designated place in your life where you unload and dissemble it, before it piles up unmanageably high. Running for me is the activity that best approximates that, but of course there are others. It’s just a matter of discovering it and amply scheduling enough of it.

Reading List Archive

March 3, 2011 — Leave a comment

Here is an archive of my reading list email recommendations. For ease of use, hit “ctrl+f” and type the hashtag+letter from the table of contents below to jump around.

#A July 25th, 2009

#B August 4th, 2009

#C August 24th, 2009

#D September 17th, 2009

#E October 10th, 2009

#F November 5th, 2009

#G December 31st, 2009

#H January 31st, 2010

#I July 5th, 2010

#J October 7th, 2010

#K November 8th, 2010

#L December 13th, 2010

#M January 17th, 2011

#N February 21st, 2011

#A July 25th, 2009

Asylum: An Alcoholic Takes the Cure by WIlliam Seabrook

The Crack Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s

No Hiding Place: An Autobiography by WIlliam Seabrook

Jungle Ways by WIlliam Seabrook

Public Enemies: Americas Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34 by Bryan Burrough

And Then Theres This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture by Bill Wasik

Stealing MySpace: The Battle to Control the Most Popular Website in America by Julia Angwin

#B August 4th, 2009

On the Rock: Twenty-Five Years in Alcatraz : The Prison Story of Alvin Karpis as told to Robert Livesey

Addiction: A Disorder of Choice by Gene Heyman

On the Shortness of Life by Seneca

Letters from a Stoic by Seneca

Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Ails and How It Can Succeed Again by Bent Fyvbjerg

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney

The Man Who Lost Everything by Paul Kuttner

-

September 17th, 2009

Hustling by Gail Sheehy

The 50th Law by Robert Greene and 50 Cent

The Wauchula Woods Accord by Charles Siebert

The Night of the Gun: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of his LifeHis Own by David Carr

My Life and Battles by Jack Johnson

#E October 10th, 2009

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz

Cesar’s Way by Cesar Milan

Murder Trials: In Defense of Sextus Roscius of Ameria and In Defense of Aulus Cluentius Habitus by Cicero

Animal Underworld: Inside Americas Black Market for Rare and Exotic Species by Alan Green

Theory of War: A Novel by Joan Brady

Lives of the Later Caesars by Anonymous

#F November 5th, 2009

The Strategy Paradox by Michael E. Raynor

A World Lit Only By Fire by William Manchester

Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by George Horace Lorimer

Ambition by Joseph Epstein

My Wicked, Wicked Ways by Errol Flynn

-

#G December 31st, 2009

Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporationby Grant McCracken

Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity by G. A. Bradshaw

Googled: The End of the World As We Know It by Ken Auletta

Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World by Roger Crowley

Samuel Bronfman: The Life and Times of Seagrams Mr. Sam by Michael R Marrus

#H January 31st, 2010

The Tacit Dimension by Michael Polanyi

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals: The Lost History of Europes Animal Trials by E.P Evans

On Sparta by Plutarch

The Book of My Life: De Vita Propria Liber by Gerolamo Cardano

#I July 5th, 2010

The Moral Sayings of Publius Syrus: A Roman Slave by Publius Syrus

The Africa House: The True Story of an English Gentleman and His African Dream by  Christina Lamb

The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America by Daniel Boorstin and Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman

Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road by Neil Peart

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

#J  October 7th, 2010

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability by Lierre Keith

Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization by John Robb

How to Live: A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell

Montaigne by Peter Burke

Within the Context of No Context by George WS Trow

Education of a Felon: A Memoir by Edward Bunker

#K  November 8th, 2010

The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects by Giorgio Vasari

The Power Tactics of Jesus Christ and Other Essays by Jay Haley

Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes from, How It Sabotages Our Lives by Pia Mellody

The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism by Upton Sinclair

The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves by Andrew Potter

A Nation of Rebels by Andrew Potter

War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges

My War Gone By, I Miss It So by Anthony Loyd

On Killing by Lt Dave Grossman

#L December 13th, 2010

The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Political Aphorisms by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton by John McPhee

The Satires by Juvenal

Getting It Wrong: Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism by W. Joseph Campbell

Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky

Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche by Ethan Waters

#N February 21st, 2011

Memoirs of Heinrich Schliemann: A documentary portrait drawn from his autobiographical writings, letters, and excavation reports by Heinrich Schliemann

Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi by George H Devol

The Big Con by David Maurel

Four Reasonable Men: Marcus Aurelius, John Stuart Mill, Ernest Renan, Henry Sidgwick by Brand Blanshard

Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality by Elias Aboujaoude

Augustus: The Life of Romes First Emperor by Anthony Everitt

Hadrian by Anthony Everitt

Cicero by Anthony Everitt

At Peace

February 16, 2011 — 1 Comment

Heinrich Schliemann’s whole life was an exercise in reification. As a commodities trader, he made his fortune through unswerving self-confidence, repeatedly, from next to nothing in St. Petersburg, Indiana, California and in Paris. Then, through a blind faith that the epic poetry of Homer was literal fact, he discovered the lost city Troy. And then Priam’s Treasure at Mycenae. And then at Tiryns. There’s a story that during the excavation of the last grave shaft at Mycenae, Schliemann unearthed a corpse whose facial features were briefly still visible. In that instance, he wrote to a friend, he recognized the face of King Agamemnon just it has appeared to him in a dream. That is to say, conclusive proof was his own imagination.

After some early missteps during his digs (Schliemann ruthlessly destroyed large parts of Troy), he found a collaborator named Rudolf Virchow. Virchow was basically the opposite of Schliemann. As a biographer wrote, he was “a pillar of strength and sanity, and unlike Schliemann he was uncompromisingly honest with himself, free from vanity and secure enough to be indifferent to success.” Virchow was the professional behind the scene, who barely batted an eye as Schliemann eagerly claimed all the credit because he was too busy directing and channeling the operation to the levels it ultimately reached.

I feel like that throwaway writeup of Virchow is about the highest descriptive achievement someone can accomplish. To be self-aware, to be assured, and to be content. It’s funny because in a way, those are the attributes that Schliemann pantomimed his entire life, with the endless searching, gratuitous wealth and constant demands for academic respect. The difference to me is that is sounds like one of them felt at peace and the other exhausted. But they both, at the end of their lives, were working on the same projects and passionately chased the same discoveries.

If I had to be one, after reading a lot about Schliemann, I would unquestionably have to be Virchow. I mean this in the most deprecating sense, because I don’t think I have the talent, the drive or the boldness to be Schliemann. What I take from the contrast illuminated in comparing the two is that we ought to try to follow the example of Virchow. And follow it fully by finding ourselves a Schliemann, whose boundlessness creates possibility out of impossibility. Someone who through sheer force of will makes their beliefs about the world true. That’s who you want to be work with, but probably not be. And I guess if you’re already and inalterably a Schliemann, fucking find yourself a Virchow. Because you need one or you’ll blow up, just like all people cursed with the natural skills of a trader inevitably do.

Convenient

February 9, 2011 — 15 Comments

I think one of the best litmus tests of quality in books about the internet is how they treat Second Life. Because Second Life is almost certainly, objectively not important or relevant enough to warrant most coverage. So when they use it, it tells me one of two things. They either have no idea what they’re talking about, or the example was just too lush for them to pass up. In the latter case, it’s the perfect strawman—a vehicle that can take as much projection and as much manipulation as they need. If you’ve got psycho-theorizing to do about culture or the internet, look no further than Second Life. It’s able, ready and willing.

In other words, it’s convenient. I guess that’s awesome for them but how well are we served by a textbook example of the confirmation bias? Sure, the reader may suspend disbelief and think of the point rather than how it was made. But they shouldn’t have to. The author should be right. And they should know what they’re talking about.

I like when you think you know what the rhyme will be in a song lyric, and then it goes in a direction you didn’t suspect. That’s a songwriter avoiding the convenient impulse. Even if you’ve never thought that before, I think there is a little rush, a little jolt, that comes when the words didn’t follow the trajectory we subconsciously anticipated. Why? Maybe because it means they’re smarter than us or they caught sight of a route we didn’t or it’s just nice to be surprised.

There is something to be said about pushing yourself to be the person that ignores the convenient choice. To commit yourself to understanding the topic well enough that you don’t need to make rely on its “Second Life example.” Also, to start to take some pleasure in seeing the obvious—the available option—and deliberately passing on it. Because you trust that you’re good enough find something better, though it may be more difficult. The ability to survive through shocks and changes and the unexpected is bred into us. We’re evolved for it. It seems to me that we may as well cultivate a channel for expressing those skills rather than allow them to atrophy.

Wisdom

January 28, 2011 — 31 Comments

There’s this thing people say: “if the 16 year old version of me saw this they’d kick my ass.” It always seems to show up around matters of responsibility, compromise, maturity, finances or anything we’d have once labeled “adult.”

I think the underpinning assumptions of this quip are so baseless as to deserve reconsideration. Namely, who gives a fuck what a 16 year old cares about anything? [For this, see whatever pseudo-strawman age we come up with to denigrate ourselves against.]

As we get older, we’re made aware of three inalterable truths about our existences. That there is a objective reality outside ourselves. Then there is what we want this reality to be. And that these two facts overlap less often than we’d like and more often than we probably deserve. The longer you’ve meditated on this, the wiser you are.

Yet, here we are comparing ourselves to a child in order to judge the rightness or wrongness of decisions we make about our lives.

It might feel like there is some refreshing certainty in ignorance but it is a chimera. Ignore for a second what you remember yourself as at [any age] and hold in your mind what the average representative of that group is like. Chances are you were much closer to the latter than the former. (Have you talked to a 16 year old recently? That’s who you think knows what’s important?)

The key is to hold yourself against something who has more of a sense of the world, not less—or worse, someone who doesn’t know it at all. To consider it from the perspective of a man. Notice how we never seem to say: what would 40 year old me think of this? And naturally, it’d be better to take ourselves out of the equation entirely, find someone who surpasses us, and ask how they would feel.