Confessions a 20th century ne'er do well: Drinking, fighting, stealing and other things one generally ought not do

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Atlas probably shrugged because he was reading the book of the same title

I need to get into a “zone” for the foreseeable future. Lots going on! Some obvious things, most of you know about. But also work, leisure, keeping in shape and other stuff. This summer is going to fly by.
Here is my problem: I don’t have a book which supports “In the Zone” living! I need something both inspiring and intellectually stimulating. Something relevant and timeless. The kind of book that makes me feel like I’m sharing a secret with people One where the author is sharing wisdom, wisdom which has been recognized and appreciated through generations. Les Mis did the trick last year – it even comes with its own soundtrack!
A buddy from work lent me 1000000000 Different Pieces, which is pretty bad, but I hate not finishing a book, and feel bad not finishing a book a friend lent to me. But I may drop it. Reading about some loser’s struggle with being a loser, true or not, isn’t inspiring to me! I want to read about someone whose struggle ends with him being a winner! I need inspiration on a grand scale.
I’m also rereading Atlas Shrugged, which is OK, but not really inspiring. Railroads, metal, and the like aren’t inspiring! Who cares about how much someone loves laying railroad track? I get the idea that man-made ventures are inspiring, and I like and relate to how the author characterizes the bad guys, but the book doesn’t make want to go out there and do something. Perhaps there should be an updated version – why not have it be about the current private industry Space Race? Some private company vying to settle Mars? But that’s not what the book is about. It’s about how awesome ultra light and strong metals are. Booring! Not only that, It’s as if the author doesn’t know that there actually are railroads, industrial metals, and oil wells, it wasn’t these people who created them, and this is not how it happened!!
So, I’m feeling uninspired!
Too many stories leave me feeling paranoid. I recently read “Den of Theives” about inside traders in the 80s (Ivan Boesky lived in Mt. Kisco, where I live…apparently in the ghetto, based on how many preposterously rich people live here). Before that it was Bringing Down the House, about card counters. Both these stories were about people who lived in fear of getting in trouble if anyone found out how they made their living. They rubbed off on me! I felt like I was doing something wrong, and I’m not! Before that, it was The Road and The Kite Runner, both of which are about people skulking around and alternately hiding or fighting for survival! I did enjoy the last four books I mentioned, but they left me feeling like I needed to look over my shoulder at all times!

Les Miserables was great because it was both a real struggle – the protagonist was on the run from the law - and an internal struggle – he was at war with his own sense of morality and responsibility. This simplifies the case, of course. When Victor Hugo writes, he both internalizes and externalizes the whole nation’s struggles.

I’m also resistant to retreading old ground right now. The Hobbit is a great inspirational story (Not so much LOTR – that one has a bit too much work involved in keeping up with the story, but not enough payoff for doing so. The Hobbit’s ratio is much better.) I love One Flew Over the Coukoo’s Nest. Inspiring not only because of its ingenious explorations of the boundaries of the human mind supported by the narrator, but also the (extremely local) political and personal struggle of the protagonist.

Something tells me not to go there right now. It’s time for something new. I have Ulysses sitting on my bookshelf. I’ve been wanting to try that for some time, but it’s a nice volume, so not so portable, and not to friendly to the sound bites I often read in. It’s waiting, perhaps for later this year. I just picked up a Faulkner book, The Light of August. It’s not one that’s been recommended, but I have it, so it’s got an edge. Somehow, it’s not grabbing my attention just yet.

I feel like I need something new to grab my attention and act as my alternate world for the summer. Something I can feel proud of reading. I know it’s corny, but besides the million little pieces sucking, I’m a little embarrassed at reading an Oprah book of the month. In fact the fact that it’d be the third of the year (the road and kite runner being the other two) makes me feel like I’m sending the world a message that it’s acceptable to view me as an Oprah book of the month club member! Neither of the first two were great. The Road was unique in that it may have been the best postapoclyptic vision I’ve ever read, despite the lackluster story (or because of the lackluster story) Kite Runner was more good than bad – maybe a 6.5 on a 10 scale. A zillion pieces just sucks. Another comment about Oprah. Both the Road and A dozen pieces use incorrect grammar – no quotation marks, random capitalization, incomplete sentences, and arbitrary paragraphs. Why is Oprah supporting illiteracy? The books aren’t good enough to act like the author was too cool for school when it comes to punctuation, especially in the case of the one which sucks regardless. I’m expecting Joyce and Faulkner to pull their weight in reading experience.

I started off the year rereading the Illuminatus! Trilogy. It’s a great saga and completely mind blowing, but I did get impatient towards the end, since it’s long and I read it only a year ago.

Most books are too long. The point is usually reached within the first 150-200 pages, and the writer keeps going on and on and on in a repetitive manner (see Atlas Shrugged) or just forcing out an ending that was never in their original inspiration for the story. If I’m going to give the author the benefit of the doubt and read their book, I really resent having to slog through 300 pages of suck in hopes of recreating an earlier grippingness. I’d hate to miss the good part, on the other hand.

I just read this book called “The Descent” about caverns under the earth where devils and monsters lurk. It wasn’t bad – 7 on the 10 scale. Where Kite Runner was vaguely educational, this was creative and seemingly fact based on the world it created. Creativity scores above educational, because if I wanted to learn about Afghanistan, I assume there are other sources, but a made-up world only has one. But The Descent kept bringing up promising (and one terrible) side plots that it never developed. The book was long enough as it is, but long and good is OK. Why even bring them up – making the book longer – if there is no payoff? And no, I don’t think the writer had a vision of the ending when he started writing, because the ending sucked. If you don’t have a good ending in mind, don’t make me read an additional 150 or more pages leading up to it!!!

Last year, I was enjoying reading science fiction, but that fizzled out quickly. I reread the StarChild trilogy. I read that before, when I was 12. The beginning was interesting, but towards the end it got boring because the characters weren’t in any way shape or form agents of their own destiny. It was outside circumstances happening upon chosen people that moved the story. I need a hero who makes decisions that have some bearing on the outcome of the story, not just cool stuff happening to people who are essentially passive.

I also read book one of Foundation Series last year. I feel like I’m supposed to like it, but I just didn’t. It’s actually very similar to Atlas Shrugged. In fact, now that I mention it, it’s almost like Atlas Shrugged in Outer Space as I suggested before. And it’s still uninspiring.

I’m not feeling direct inspirational books like Wayne Dwyer or Napoleon Hill. I used to like them, but just gave each a try and there was an exponential effect on the whole Oprah book thing. Half baked advice can sometimes inspire, but I want to feel proud of what I’m reading. That would be a nice touch right now.

So, for now, I’m stuck with Atlas Shrugged and a Million Little Pieces. I intend to keep Atlas Shrugged chugging along in the background, even though it is a bit of a drag, and may as well finish a Million Pieces if only out of courtesy (hopefully it won’t take more than a week. If it does, I may abandon it), but I’m really despondent about my reading situation right about now☹.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Real New Yorkers revisited

Almost exactly a year ago, April 22, 2007, I wrote a post about how most 'New Yorkers' are really foreigners, and that people growing up in NJ are more native.
Yesterday afternoon, I asked one of the guys from that post where NASDAQ was.
"Times Square," he said. "Didn't you used to live in New York?"
"Yeah," I responded, solely aware of the irony, "But real New Yorkers don't pay any attention to Times Square."

Oh yeah, my name was mentioned on the NASDAQ billboard at the foot of Times Square as having put together one of the most important conferences on Latin America or something along those lines.

Also. If you want to give to charity and don't know where, give to the Danny Federici Melanoma Fund. Believe it or not, I met the guy on multiple occasions, so it was indeed sad news. I thank him for being a part of somthing that brings me joy.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The fate of the feline

Curiosity has always been my drive. When I was a junior, at 16, I read The Fountainhead in my English class and subsequently, Atlas Shrugged on my own. That summer, I enrolled in a volunteer social service program working in a soup kitchen and nursing home. An odd reaction, considering how much I loved those books, which are often considered contrary to social anything, much less service. The reason I gave was that I wanted to see what the world was really like for those who were struggling. I believe it was consistent with Dagny Taggert working night shifts as a dispatcher at her father’s railroad, starting with sleeves rolled up to get the most basic of understandings: first hand.

What attracted me to psychology as an undergraduate concentration was the process of unraveling the seeming irrationality of human behavior - especially the self-interpretations of the actor - to find the basic rational satisfaction of underlying drives. Safety. Acceptance. Self esteem. The rest of man’s concerns are window dressings to the basic underlying desires. How often does a person subvert acknowledgement of the truth to approval on one’s peers? How often do we strive to define and complete some otherwise arbitrary form of achievement for the purpose of feeling accomplished? Unlocking how these needs drive people’s maps of the world is a fun puzzle for me. It is the mystery that drives the social world. And now I try to unlock the mystery within myself.

It was a combination of my need for a tangible, hands-on path to knowledge combined with the mystery of human psychology, and a desire to make a positive impact on the world that inspired me to pursue a masters degree in social work.

It sounds so simple, described like that. The truth of the matter is that my career path has been wrought with twists and turns. Social work, it turned out was merely a far removed beginning.

A journey driven by curiosity, after all, does not run down a clear path. It is a journey driven by questions and second-guesses. What can the final destination of a journey driven by questions can be? It is a destination not known until the journey’s end. Without a clear destination, by what measurement does one identify the path?

I can take the time to recount where I’ve been. I can assess what tools I have. I can even make decisions about the next turn to take. But without a final destination, the ultimate direction is elusive.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Wealth of Nations

Whenever I figure out the direction of the new blog, I may go back and transfer some of the posts. This below ties into what I'm working on right now, thus tying in my work with my blog and creating a bit of real world connection.

Here is a thought that crossed my mind as I put together a conference on Sovereign Wealth Funds.

I'm curious as to what is the official 'free markets' view (if such a thing exists officially) on Sovereign Wealth Funds. On one hand, opposition to SWFs seems protectionist - on the surface, they're no different than other large investment bodies such as hedge funds (which also come under scrutiny for their opacity). On the other, let's consider where this money comes from: Either state controlled natural resources, or excessive taxation. If a government surplus exists, shouldn't it go back to its citizens? Is there a reason a government should hold a stake in US financial firms rather than the country's citizens? This is money being taken from private citizens for use by a government - which is then buying stakes in private enterprises. Many of these governments – China for example – are top down and non-representative.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Career services

I’ve been trying to think of a new thrust for the blog. I’m envisioning a partial resume/portfolio type of thing to showcase my writing with the goal of potentially moving towards more paid writing assignments. A way of creating a kind of beat or expertise.

Reading TAB’s recent lamentations about his career, I thought it might be a good idea to turn this blog into a career search blog. Not a portfolio like I mention above, but more of an among friends forum to discuss career development ideas. The nature of the other blog would depend on what I figure out before then.

Everyone tends to have good ideas, but the key is to keep grounded in reality. Not pessimism, but reality. Certainly anything is possible, but the methods of getting from A to B are constrained by reality.

The biggest challenge I face is that I have no clear goal. My philosophy is that that shouldn’t stop me. I’m a believer in the maxim that, “luck is when preparation meets destiny.”

So it often feels a little neurotic to constantly try and think of projects or ways to improve myself (really, isn’t arbitrary “self improvement” the realm of the insecure?). But, I want my role to be greater than it is. The idea is to become more nimble in career matters.

With that goal in mind, I want to try and open my mind to my few readers who want to also discuss these matters.

The goals of talking about career stuff include:

1. Brainstorming and stress testing – elaborating on ideas and finding flaws with them.
2. Keeping goal oriented with the things I do. Since self improvement as I define it here is similar to work, I’d hate for it to be without purpose. Sometimes worthy efforts can seem purposeful, only to be draining in the end because of a lack of coordination with ultimate goals.

But most importantly, I want to avoid compensation for insecurity. This isn’t about me trying to garner support or feel good about myself, but to develop both skills and positioning that can make me more nimble. More nimble means better able to benefit from opportunities that arise.

I hope everyone feels free to add to the discussion - regarding yourselves. Bringing our minds together can only yield results that multiply what we can come up with on our own. Feel free to e-mail me if you want something to be the main post. If you want anonyminity, maybe this is the place for it. We're all in this world together.