Reading: “The Last American Man” by Elisabeth Gilbert

“By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old, he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree. By the time he was ten, he could hit a running squirrel at fifty feet with a bow and arrow. When he turned twelve, he went out into the woods, alone and empty-handed, built himself a shelter, and survived off the land for a week. When he turned seventeen, he moved out of his family’s home altogether and headed into the mountains, where he lived in a teepee of his own design, made fire by rubbing two sticks together, bathed in icy streams, and dressed in the skins of the animals he had hunted and eaten. This move occurred in 1977, by the way. Which was the same year the film Star Wars was released.”

I was already wowed by how well-crafted Elisabeth Gilbert characterized the last american pioneer. But it took me 150+ pages in to realize that it was a true story. I became more emotionally invested in Eustace Conway and the philosophy he lives in. At times, I sense the tragedy and losing battles he has fought so hard to accomplish.

The Last American Man follows a modern day Davy Crockett survivalist, pioneer named Eustace Conway who lived the ways of Native American Indians to start his own life in the Appalachian Mountains. He is deeply attached to the environment, survival tactics and the original way of doing things. He believes that his true calling is to reintroduce Americans to the concept of revelatory communion with the frontier, seeing himself as the “Man of Destiny”.

“I am the teacher of all people,” he says and presents himself as an “epic masculine hero” His actions aims to reverse and undo the inherent corruption and greed and malaise of modern America. Our “constant striving for convenience, [is] eradicating the raucous and edifying beauty of our true environment and replacing that beauty…” Towards the end, Eustace failed to have a sensibility about the roles people play in the world and took things too seriously. He became too closed off in his own world of his mighty dogma. In moments of grief, he always searches for logic and for answers. He may have accomplished multiple transcontinental journeys and accomplishments but failed to cultivate genuine relationships.

Apart from the characterization of Eustace, it is also a commentary on the fragile state of male identity and America. America is one of the few places in the world that celebrates old tales of the self-sufficient single male pioneers like Daniel Boone and Lewis and Clark, conquering lands and disregarding females. It serves as a reminder of the things we have forgotten and fought for that lead us to where we are now. The author poignantly ends in the epilogue:

“The history of Eustace Conway is the history of man’s progress on the North American continent. First, he slept on the ground and wore furs. He made fire with sticks and ate what he could hunt and gather. When he was hungry, he threw stones at birds and blew darts at rabbits and dug up roots from the ground, and so he survived. He wove baskets from the trees in his domain. he was a nomad; he moved on foot. Then he moved into a teepee and became a more sophisticated trapper of animals. He made fire with flint and steel. When he mastered that, he used matches. He began to wear wool. He moved out of the teepee and into a simple wooden structure. He became a farmer, clearing the land and cultivating a garden. He acquired livestock. He cut paths into the woods, which became trails and then roads. He improved the roads with bridges. He wore denim.

He was first an Indian, then an explorer, than a pioneer. He built himself a cabin and became a true settler. As a man of utopian vision, he now sustains himself with the hope that like-minded people will buy property around Turtle Island and raise their families as he will someday raise his … He evolves before our eyes. He improves and expands and improves and expands because he is so clever and so resourceful that he cannot help himself. He is not compelled to rest in the enjoyment of what he already knows how to do; he must keep moving on. He is unstoppable. And we are also unstoppable. We on this continent have always been unstoppable. We all progress, as de Tocqueville observed, ‘like a deluge of men, rising unabatedly, and driven daily onward by the hand of God.’ We exhaust ourselves and everyone else. And we exhaust our resources — both natural and interior — and Eustace is only the clearest representation of our urgency.”

Other ideas:

We seem to have stopped paying attention.

It seems that we have fallen out of step with our natural cycles of the seasons that, for millennials prior, have defined our existence. “Having lost that vital connection with nature, the nation is in danger of losing its humanity.”

If we don’t cultivate our own food supply anymore, do we need to pay attention to the idea of, say, seasons? Is there any difference between winter and summer if we can eat strawberries everyday?

How can a man operate in a society when there is no longer a clear path for him?

“What happens to young people in a society that has lost all trace of ritual? Because adolescence is a transitional period, it is an inherently perilous journey.But culture and ritual are supposed to protect us through the transitions of life, holding us in safety during danger and answering confusing questions about identity and change, in order to keep us from getting separated from the community during our hardest personal journeys.” “How is a modern American boy supposed to know when he has reached manhood? When he gets his driver’s license ? When he smokes pot for the first time? When he experiences unprotected sex with a young girl who herself has no idea she’s a woman or not?”

Problem solving because that’s the only thing we can do.

It’s a rare skill that we have to accomplish, being able to “improvise in the face of disaster”. Playing video games, for instance, Oregon Trail and being detached from the danger through a virtual screen allows us to take a step back once we fail and reach “game over”. We stand up from our desks, grab a beer and move out to our next task. On the contrary, Conway does endure all manners of hardship and does figure out how to rig something up when the axle snaps. He chooses to live in discomfort and he does, because he has to. People say “I want to do what you’re doing” in fact they probably don’t. We pride ourselves in the ease and convenience of our modern lives and when given the opportunity, we are not ready to walk away from it all. We could do it if we had to… but we won’t.

 

 

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Reading: “Let My People Go Surfing” by Yvon Chouinard

Here’s another library book that has been dog-eared, annotated and watermarked so much, I really should just start buying books again. Well, maybe once I’m running back on an income.

Yvon Chouinard serves as an example of someone who truly lives and breathes the philosophies and lessons he has learned throughout the years. Pledging to only create high-quality multifunctional products, “Let My People Go Surfing” is a versatile bible: it’s his autobiography, Patagonia’s success story and a blueprint for hope all in one.

Less is more  

During my current job searching phase, this book has served as a great reminder that good companies that support causes amazing causes do exist and is something we, as individuals and organizations, should all strive for. Despite his utmost hatred for capitalism, Chouinard dismantles all complacent notions of traditional business for restraint, quality and simplicity. From his feeble attempts at living a simple life, he has learned that living a simple life does not mean an impoverished one, but one richer in all the ways that really matter.

Leaders don’t manage, they embrace change

Chouinard breaks down Patagonia’s philosophies in each of its department. Most notably, in management philosophy, he uses an ant metaphor to support a leader, leading by example. “There is no specific ant in charge in a colony, no central control. Yet each ant knows that its job is, and ants communicate with one another by way of very simple interactions; altogether they produce a very effective social network.” It may not reflect most organizations, but making that case against top-down centralized leadership is one that favors nature.

Activism is necessary and inspire change

“The zen master would say if you want to change government, you have to aim at changing corporations, and if you want to change corporation, you first have to change the consumers. Whoa, wait a minute! The consumer? That’s me. You mean I’m the one who has to change?”

Now more than ever we need to encourage civil democracy by speaking out, joining up, volunteering, or supporting these groups financially so we can still have a voice in democracy. Activists are the key citizens who have an infectious passion about the issues they support. “These are the people on the front lines, trying either to make the government obey its own laws or to recognize the need for a new law.”

This also means that it’s important for activists to obtain the necessary tools as they prepare to confront big business or big government. This means, learning organizational, business and marketing skills in order to compete with the media environment.

Nature loves diversity. So should we.

“Nature is not only evolving, and ecosystems support species that adapt either through catastrophic events or through natural selection. A healthy environment operates the same need for diversity and variety evident in a successful business, and that diversity evolve out of a commitment to constant change.”

There is nothing more human that centralization and complacency. We must use all our resources to combat them by embracing and instigating change. However, continuous change and innovation require maintaining a sense of urgency in order to be sustainable. Chouinard considered this as a mandate despite the laid-back atmosphere in Patagonia. “Only on businesses operating with a sense of urgency, dancing on the fringe, constantly evolving, open to diversity and new ways of doing things, are going to be here one hundred years from now.”
And lastly, “do well by doing good.”

Reading: “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance

(Disclaimer: This is an introspection, not a book review.)

Being an immigrant, and a minority citizen to my own country, understanding where I came from is always important in discovering who I am. JD Vance’s exploration of his childhood and life so far in Hillbilly Elegy just does that.

Yup, I’m guilty. I loved this book because I can relate to it. That’s what I found surprising about it. From Vance’s journey migrating north from Kentucky to Ohio to multiple households, to finding his grind as a Marine and going to Law School, He refers to himself as a “cultural emigrant” who yearned for a successful and peaceful home.

One of the tips he learns from his grandma, Mamaw, who he attributes as the person who raised him, is that “having good role models around you will remind you that there is another life out there. And that exposure gives you something to dream for.” This took me back to high school when I always spent time at my friends’ houses for dinner, especially on Monday nights when my mother threw karaoke parties. But these families I lived vicariously through reminded me that I don’t have to be on guard all the time, that I can have a conversation without shouting, that there are people who listen, and that I can be deserving of people’s love.

Vance also finds himself as a minority to his own hillbilly people, “a stranger in this strange land”, due to his upward mobility as a Marine and with his college degree. He liked the feeling of self-sufficiency and providing for those in need, for the kind of people who he once was. One thing I would say is that towards the end, as his chronological storytelling becomes more relevant, the greater understanding of his past draws him further from it, nor can he really come back to it anymore. He will always be an outsider now, even to his past, family and hillbilly culture. (He lives in Silicon Valley now, might I add.) But the price he paid is the understanding of the things he can control, who he is, and that he isn’t that doomed after all the demons he fought in his youth. An acceptance of who he is.

I’m not holding him as a hillbilly spokesperson nor am I praising this to give me hope during this presidency, but I admire how this book allowed for sympathy and understanding with the storytelling of his past. Vance motivates me to tell my own story. It’s not that I find my own life boring, but maybe I am looking too much into the past to really see what’s in front of me and how far I’ve come.

Continue reading “Reading: “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance”

Reading: “Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential within Us All” by IDEO

“At its core, creative confidence is about believing in your ability to create change in the world around you.”

When I first picked Creative Confidence, I thought it was going to be just another design/ creative self-help book filled with adages proclaiming to “be creative” and to “turn Ideas into action”. Turns out, it was better than that! I feel like I have a duty to just buy the book from the library or get my own copy from how much I’ve dog-eared.

Fortuitously, this book came in handy when I was assigned to lead weekly meetings for my team for the month of May to guide discussions on anything the team, or I, would find helpful for career development, or expanding our skill sets and knowledge base.

I finished reading chapters and and went straight to my meetings, utilizing all the exercises and examples I just absorbed. At first, I was greeted with a lot of skepticism, “Our boss would not like this” or “I’m wasting my billable hours”. Good thing I was in charge of the meetings.

Image result for creative confidence

The first discussion I lead was about Brainstorming. This meant identifying (and redefining) the problem and the solution. Using my own creative spin, I utilized the Bugs List to get the team thinking more critically about the world and identify “bugs”, which are problems or pockets as frustrations, as opportunities to improve something. Great discussion was had and the team was energized by their collective frustration. After identifying problems, I gave some tips on how to Reframe the Solution. Using the tips of asking a better question to answer, that addresses the human need and sparks more inspiration. The next week, I asked the team to express their emotions using only triangles, squares and circles. It was different, but I felt like it was my duty to break the analytic and logical mindset hardwired to my team.

“The first step toward a great answer is to reframe the question.”

Throughout the next weeks, I was constantly using it as a point of resource, my creative bible. I admit, it gave me my own confidence. But there’s something about practicing what you preach that helped me embrace this book. It wasn’t a book about IDEO’s success story, filled with ego and pride. . Nor was it filled with metaphorical adages about design (Cough, Rework). They gave exact steps and exercises to help build our own creative muscles. And lastly, the examples the Kelley brothers used were not stories of extraordinary people, they were ordinary people who found their own creative confidence.

“Like a muscle, your creative abilities will grow and strengthen with practice.”

Reading: “Imagine: How Creativity Works” by Jonah Lehrer

Notes:

Ideas & creativity

  1. Hopelessness → Revelation: The hardest work always comes after when you’re trying to make Idea to a Reality
  2. The right hemisphere of the brain is responsible for making sense of the whole (not just seeing the parts).
  3. The human imagination has no clear precursors. It’s out of no where.
  4. William James: “The [creative process] is like a seething cauldron of ideas, where everything is fizzling and bobbling about in a state of bewildering activity.

Persistence is necessary. Nothing good is every easy.

Creativity as an Act of Unconcealing.

  1. That’s because we see nothing at first glance. It’s only really thinking about something that we’re able to move ourselves into perceptions that we never knew we had the capacity for. We unconceal the reality of it from the clutter of the world, by all the ideas and sensation that DISTRACT THE MIND. it is the KNIFE OF CONSCIOUS ATTENTION to cut away the excess and reval the things themselves. → RAW ←
  2. Einstein: “creativity is the residue of time wasted.”
  3. Steve Martin: “Naivete is the quality that keeps you from knowing just how unsuited you are for what you are about to do.

On cities

  1. Cities are INEXHAUSTIBLE SOURCE OF IDEAS.
  2. With each addition, productivity and innovation increases.
  3. This is what makes it rare and different from corporations.
  4. Walking speed of people are directly correlated to creation of new ideas.
    1. MOST COLLISIONS!
  5. Ideas become more USEFUL when they become more POPULAR
  6. The unifier for all ideas and people. How every creative story is different but also the same. “Out of nothing, is something.”

Brands

  1. Used to be about establishing AUTHORITY and reliability. Now, it’s all about EMPATHY.
  2. Used to attract us through specs and capabilities, now, it has to ENABLE AN EXPERIENCE.
  3. Newness: the thrill of discovery but also the thrill of not having to decide.
  4. Using narrative is the delivery vehicle, a way to emphasize and empathize with human interaction.
  5. brands help us understand the world and make decisions.
  6. How we remember (chronology + nostalgia)
    1. [Arbitrary thing] + [Beginning, middle and End] = something we can own, embrace and share.
  7. We all tell our own stories, because we are all the leading character, and everyone has a supporting role.

Reading: “The Argonauts” by Maggie Nelson

argoNotes

  • On the notion of “feeling real”
    • When finding an identity, “one can aspire to feel real, other can help others to feel real, and one can oneself feel real” and is tied to the primary sensation of aliveness “the aliveness of the body tissues and working with body functions, including the heart’s action and breathing” which makes spontaneous gesture possible. In regards to Winnicott, “feeling real is not a reactive to external stimuli, nor is it an identity. It is a sensation– one that spreads. Among other things, it makes you want to live.
  • On the unaddressed greatness of motherhood
    • Addressing D.W. WInnicott, Nelson notes it’s better not tell mothers that what they are doing is important “When a mother has a capacity quite simply to be a mother we must never interfere. She will not be able to fight for her rights because she will not understand.” Simply they all believe the are ordinary
  • The concept of “leaving an empty space so that God could rush in.”
    • They say that in bonsai, you often plan a tree off-center in the pot “to make space for the divine. This concept covers something more greater, in that there is no center! And this will keep you going in heart or art.
  • What does being trans mean?
    • While often used as a shorthand for “transitioning”, we are often familiar with people say they were “born in the wrong body”. For some, it’s an idea of leaving the idea of gender entirely behind. For a society that demands resolution, it seems there is always a destination to the journey, “transitioning to what?” leaving plenty in confusion, conflict or grief. In such cases, the best is to simply listen to what people have to tell you and treat them accordingly without having to gloss over their version of reality with yours.
    • It’s hard to comprehend that becoming sometimes doesn’t have an end result, becoming, transitioning, in which one never really becomes. Nelson simply, “A becoming in which one never becomes, a becoming whose rule is neither evolution nor asymptote but a certain
    • turning, a certain turning inward, turning into my own, turning on in, to my own self, at last, turning out of the white cage, turning out of the large cage turning at last (Lucille Clifton)

Reading: “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life” by Twyla Tharp

cvr9780743235273_9780743235273_hrHabits:

  1. “In order to be creative you have to know how to be creative.” Ask yourself “what’s your blank canvas?”
  2. Create a habit-forming environment and subtract any distractions
  3. “Build up your tolerance for solitude.”
  4. “Work with the best.”
  5. “Build a bridge to the next day.”
  6. “Never have a favorite Weapon.”
  7. “Reading is your first line of defense against an empty head.”
  8. Always remember why you started
  9. Don’t stay in denial. Let yourself fail and learn from it.

Continue reading “Reading: “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life” by Twyla Tharp”