[Yes, Maine was one of the first states so it has more right to be Amurican than most states. So me calling it Canadian has no real basis in anything except a picture on a map, but either does anything else I’ve said today. I hope you can make sense of this madness below.]
My grandma put a gun to my grandpa’s head 37 years ago. “You will buy this fucking cabin, Edward.” He did, but there was no gun involved and there certainly were no curse words. My grandma was maybe the greatest student of Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science. If I thought that a religion could capture the elusive Truth then I’d try to be the second greatest student of that religion. Nana is gone now but she left me with a cabin in the woods to retreat to with family, a lot of love, a closeness with family, her Christian Science studies, and an appreciation for the incomplete disappearance of somebody when they die – she’s always there in very real ways. Love you Nana <3.
I did not mean to talk about Nana. We are at a cabin in the woods on a lake. Call me Thoreau, that’s what I do when I go there. I only respond to Henry. Of course that’s not the case at all. It is curious how a lot of quiet and a lot of nature force lessons on you that you can’t hear through the violently loud bullshit of ‘normal’ days.
Having said that, this list will probably not make a lot of sense. It’s an odd collection of things I learned while at the cabin with family for a couple weeks this summer.
- Nassim Taleb is the greatest thinker alive. Maybe he’s just the most successfully sassy. His book “The Black Swan” is brilliant and not about ballet. It has been lost among the ‘idea books’ and business books that really barely deserve a blog post but the author needs a calling card so he writes 890,000 swords of bullshit to cover up the smallness of his idea (and intellect). Any summary of this book will miss the point because, like Nietzche’s Zarathustra, the philosophy is in the writing. The most exciting points to me off the top of my head: (1) It is more important to predict the impact an event will have than the probability of it happening. Our ability to predict the likelihood of something happening is miserable. (2) Be robust to negative Black Swans (events that would ‘never’ happen that always do … from each individual’s perspective) but throw yourself in front of positive ones. The financial industry does well until the unexpected, a publishing company does terribly until the unexpected. (Publishing is moving away from this model with the internet.) (3) Many things we consider to be measurements are actually bad guesses. Measurements are definite, you can stick a ruler up to them. An algorithm based on bad assumptions will give you bad answers. (4) It’s possible to be hilarious, snotty, likeable, hypocritical, loving, and massively intellectual. I need to write a book professing my love to Taleb. Maybe one day he’ll be sad and read it and call me and we will frolic because I helped the helper.
- Self-Help is bologna. A family friend in Maine is an executive coach for some of the most renown executives in the world. Goldman Sachs, Ford, a ton of financial folk in NYC – hedge fund managers, VC’s, all sorts of people. There are so many assumptions they make that once looked at truthfully just shows them as desperate people desperately tricking themselves and helping others lie to themselves. Of course they save lives too. When I wanted to shoot myself in the head because depression and being exposed to big-boy pain I needed to read an ‘intuitive’ to tell me that depression will melt away and the profundity it brought will stay around. Mostly, though, it’s insidious. It’s an addiction – “at a certain point you have to stop reading my books and come to my billion dollar workshop, then you will find true wealth.” The coach said, “the best self help book by far is Science and Health”. That is the Christian Science key to the Bible. It makes it real for a whole lot of people, Christian Scientists or not (by the way, this has nothing in common with Scientology except both are mistreated by the media). My takeaway from that – God. The need he sees in all these executive coaches, the main lack, is that they are facing a fat God-shaped hole. He was giving me all sorts of circumstances and how he helped executives through certain issues. Everything example of action was simple. Things like ‘make a list of your strengths and weaknesses, focus on the top three for each list’. He knew what action they needed to take to prove something to themselves. And these actions are the only way to self-help. Jesus can’t save you, but he can show you something that might let you help yourself.
- Brick and mortar retailers still have no websites.Damariscotta, the town that our cabin is in, basically shuts down in the winters. It’s too cold to do anything besides stay inside, write down nightmares, get drunk, and do meth. So these stores have to make enough money in the bearable summer months to survive a winter where they may sell one unit. I went into one store in particular selling goods from South Asia. Great stuff, stuff that would do really well online. I asked the ‘authentic’ looking woman at the counter about their website and she said that you can go to their website to find their phone number. So dumb! What the hell are they doing during the winter!? Maybe writing blog posts like this. If someone – anyone but me – walked through the downtown and set up online stores for each of these little places and made some kind of profit sharing deal they could make some moneys.
- Silence is like the best. This is actually a corollary to number one – Nassim Taleb is fan #1 for long, slow walks. I took his challenge and walked slowly. This is uncomfortable at the beginning. Why would you be walking if you’re not trying to sweat or get somewhere!? This is a great way to force your mind into a state of wandering. You’re not going fast enough to think of a destination or burn calories so you are just stuck in this silent saunter. Slow enough to look at a leaf passing by. “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind. – Albert Einstein”
- Banker’s fashion tastes. My cousin-in-law (thanks for their contract Uncle Sam!) is a trader in San Francisco for one of the big banks. The new cool for bankers is to have something that is obviously expensive but nobody knows about it. This used to be the pride and joy of only the ultra-rich but now the sort-of-rich are indulging in mysterious luxury goods. It’s not cool to be a brand-whore now. Now you need to be better than everyone else by being even more individual and getting things made by people who are vaguely respected and shrouded in ancient family history. To me this signifies a movement towards shunning brands, I want to fit in in the most-least way possible. I’ve left you all in the dust! But not too far I promise I swear I’m still here and I want to be with you and loved by and promoted by you. This sounds like I’m hating on bankers but I’m not at all. I think this is the fashion ideal right now. Gawd I’m so frakking hip.
- Physical action drives epiphanies. I was windsurfing and doing terribly. Then I had an extended moment of clarity – a whole framework of windsurfing as life hit me hard. Of course, pretty much any action or any game or any anything can be a metaphor for life – it’s a fractal of life! You can imagine what part the wind and the sail and testing the edges and correcting constantly had to do with life in a bigger picture that didn’t see a windsurfing board. For me it was a powerful lesson, for anybody else it would be a nice story at most. The only life metaphors that will help you in any way are ones you experience first hand. Direct experience, self-reliance, getting into the world in some way and trying something hard is the only way to get at it. The story, whatever we lay on the feeling of enlightenment or epiphany or clarity, means nothing – it’s just our way of holding onto the experience a bit longer. Maybe trying to tell someone else about it.
- Email trumps Facebook. A great friend of mine killed his Facebook account because it was distracting. I’ve looked at facebook four times since I started writing this. What did I see? Somebody liked a picture I posted of the universe. Three people shared it! What a rush, that’s exciting. I feel vaguely closer to those people, we made a low-grade connection. My friend that quit Facebook though, we haven’t talked much in nearly a year and through email we’re back to like BFF’s or something. It’s so much more personal to write an email – it’s like on the personal level that snail mail was when email got big. It’s one on one and more detailed and good. I want to start emailing more and facebooking less. (As I was finding ridiculous pictures to throw in between ridiculous words a song came on about blocking people and being blocked by people. “You blocked me on a facebook, and now you’re going to die” it says. Internet Friends by Knife Party on the oneandonly Grooveshark)
- The Republican National Convention is private and changes rules like a 8 year old who is losing at Tag. While I was in Maine, the Ron Paul supporting delegates of the state got kicked out of the RNC in Tampa (where I live usually). Essentially, Ron Paul was getting enough delegates to cause a re-vote or something and the GOP didn’t like it and so changed the rules by raising the amount of votes he needed to just over the amount he got. This blatant bulshittery is great for those who love proving to the voting public that their votes really don’t mean much of anything.
My head hurts, I haven’t given you ideas for two weeks. My idea-machine is rusty, I need to get it so lubey. I want to work out in front of you, naked as much as possible. I want to work out with you, even more nakeder.
I think I promised wisdom in the title. I’m not sure if any was provided. This ancient guy Seneca was quite a philosopher. When teaching a student, Lucius, he would include in each letter a quote from somebody else – often a ‘rival’. In his sixth correspondence he talked about friendship, this was the quote he provided:
What progress, you ask, have I made? I have begun to be a friend to myself. – Hecato
That this is the real wisdom of Maine or any other quiet place. There is so much ‘nature’ (but humans are nature too, damnit!) and so much silence and so many visible stars that you can quit thinking about a self that isn’t there, and therefore befriend ‘it’.