|burn||Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.|
|mock||This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.|
|don't||Don't read this book.|
|desert||If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.|
|fan||If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.|
|worth||This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.|
|strongly||I strongly recommend this book|
|amazing||OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.|
The gist of this book is "Social media is making us assholes. Don't be an asshole, stop playing the social media game."
There is merit to this. Social media comes at us uncurated and at ungodly speeds. We are easily manipulated (see 2016 elections and Twitter Outrage du Jour). Having a larger view of life, of issues, of the crisis, is very, very difficult in the moment, and lashing out to destroy is far, far easier than reaching out to build.
Lanier gives many compelling arguments: SM companies mine data about your without your knowledge and sell it, SM is addictive, SM turns us all into assholes.
If I hadn't already cut back on social media for other reasons, I suspect I'd be going through withdrawal trying to be less active on social media. As it is, I have my journals, and this site, and, yeah, I'm pretty okay with that.
This book is worth reading for everyone. Unfortunately, the people who are most likely to listen and agree with Lanier are the people you WANT on social media, because they care, because they are trying NOT to be assholes, because they want social media to be a good place to be. Alas, the sucky people will be the ones to stay. Fortunately, we don't have to stay with them.
The core process that allows social media to make money and that also does the damage to society is behavior modification. Behavior modification entails methodical techniques that change behavioral patterns in animals and people. It can be used to treat addictions, but it can also be used to create them.
The addict gradually loses touch with the real world and real people. When many people are addicted to manipulative schemes, the world gets dark and crazy.
We know that relevant companies take in an astounding amount of money and that they don’t always know who their customers are. Therefore, there are likely to be actors manipulating us—manipulating you—who have not been revealed.
To free yourself, to be more authentic, to be less addicted, to be less manipulated, to be less paranoid … for all these marvelous reasons, delete your accounts.
The problem occurs when all the phenomena I’ve just described are driven by a business model in which the incentive is to find customers ready to pay to modify someone else’s behavior. Remember, with old-fashioned advertising, you could measure whether a product did better after an ad was run, but now companies are measuring whether individuals changed their behaviors, and the feeds for each person are constantly tweaked to get individual behavior to change. Your specific behavior change has been turned into a product.
As explained in the first argument, the scheme I am describing amplifies negative emotions more than positive ones, so it’s more efficient at harming society than at improving it: creepier customers get more bang for their buck.
If we could just get rid of the deleterious business model, then the underlying technology might not be so bad.
How about “Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent”? BUMMER.
BUMMER is a machine, a statistical machine that lives in the computing clouds. To review, phenomena that are statistical and fuzzy are nevertheless real. Even at their best, BUMMER algorithms can only calculate the chances that a person will act in a particular way. But what might be only a chance for each person approaches being a certainty on the average for large numbers of people.
One of the secrets of present-day Silicon Valley is that some people seem to be better than others at getting machine learning schemes to work, and no one understands why.
To avoid being left out, journalists had to create stories that emphasized clickbait and were detachable from context.
I don’t want to be an asshole. Or a fake-nice person. I want to be authentically nice, and certain online designs seem to fight against that with magical force.
In the early days, before everyone was doing it, the air was clearer and it was easier to notice how bizarre it is when your inner troll starts talking. It’s like an ugly alien living inside you that you long ago forgot about. Don’t let your inner troll take control! If it happens when you’re in a particular situation, avoid that situation! It doesn’t matter if it’s an online platform, a relationship, or a job. Your character is like your health, more valuable than anything you can buy. Don’t throw it away.
The pattern is found whenever people form into groups. Street gangs perceive only pack concepts such as territory and revenge, even as they destroy their lives, families, and neighborhoods. The Pack setting of the switch makes you pay so much attention to your peers and enemies in the world of packs that you can become blind to what’s happening right in front of your face. When the Solitary/ Pack switch is set to Pack, we become obsessed with and controlled by a pecking order. We pounce on those below us, lest we be demoted, and we do our best to flatter and snipe at those above us at the same time.
collective processes make the best sense when participants are acting as individuals.
Full disclosure: I have a professional connection to LinkedIn that might impair my objectivity (even though I don’t have an account on the site). You should not accept what I say without thinking about it critically, and my disclosure of a conflict of interest is a great starting point to do that. Think for yourself!
most people will choose to be something other than an asshole, given the choice. A
If, when you participate in online platforms, you notice a nasty thing inside yourself, an insecurity, a sense of low self-esteem, a yearning to lash out, to swat someone down, then leave that platform. Simple.
Your character is the most precious thing about you. Don’t let it degrade.
Truth, meaning a claim that can be tested or events that are honestly documented—the stuff that all people can hold in common—
Leaving aside explicitly fake people like Alexa, Cortana, and Siri, you might think that you’ve never interacted with a fake person online, but you have, and with loads of them. You decided to buy something because it had a lot of good reviews, but many of those reviews were from artificial people. You found a doctor by using a search engine, but the reason that doctor showed up high in the search results was that a load of fake people linked to her office. You looked at a video or read a story because so many other people had, but most of them were fake. You became aware of tweets because they were retweeted first by armies of bots.
Whatever you can do, bots can do a million times while you blink. Fake people are a cultural denial-of-service attack.
You might think I’m being elitist when I am more appalled that “educated” parents, who are more likely to be affluent, foment dangerous nonsense, but isn’t the whole point of education supposed to be that it diminishes people’s susceptibility to dangerous nonsense?
People are clustered into paranoia peer groups because then they can be more easily and predictably swayed.
The ability of humans to enjoy our modern luxuries, such as a diminution of deadly epidemics, while even temporarily rejecting the benefits of hard-won truths is a testament to how far we’ve come as a technological species.
Public health measures and modern medicine have doubled our life spans. Doubled! The unintended result is that now some of us can believe nonsense and not pay for that belief with our lives. At least for a while.
What you say isn’t meaningful without context.
The advertisers are the true customers, so they have a voice.
The most common extreme examples, however, might arise when women and girls who attempt to express themselves online find that their words and images are sexualized or incorporated into a violent or manipulative framework.
These extreme examples occur only because the rules of the game in BUMMER are that you don’t know the context in which you are expressing anything and you have no reliable way of knowing how it will be presented to someone else.
We have given up our connection to context.
Speaking through social media isn’t really speaking at all. Context is applied to what you say after you say it, for someone else’s purposes and profit.
To become a number is to be explicitly subservient to a system. A number is a public verification of reduced freedom, status, and personhood.
A news source will keep tweaking what it does until further tweaks no longer yield better results. After that, repetition. That’s why so much clickbait is so similar. There’s only this one weird trick to optimize clickbait. 6
Feedback is a good thing, but overemphasizing immediate feedback within an artificially limited online environment leads to ridiculous outcomes.
What if deeply reaching a small number of people matters more than reaching everybody with nothing?
But when everyone is on their phone, you have less of a feeling for what’s going on with them. Their experiences are curated by faraway algorithms. You and they can’t build unmolested commonality unless the phones are put away.
The ability to theorize about what someone else experiences as part of understanding that person is called having a theory of mind. To have a theory of mind is to build a story in your head about what’s going on in someone else’s head. Theory of mind is at the core of any sense of respect or empathy, and it’s a prerequisite to any hope of intelligent cooperation, civility, or helpful politics. It’s why stories exist.
When you can only see how someone else behaves, but not the experiences that influenced their behavior, it becomes harder to have a theory of mind about that person. If you see someone hit someone else, for instance, but you did not see that they did it in defense of a child, you might misinterpret what you see.
What’s really going on is that we see less than ever before of what others are seeing, so we have less opportunity to understand each other.
Yes, of course it’s great that people can be connected, 12 but why must they accept manipulation by a third party as the price of that connection? What if the manipulation, not the connection, is the real problem? 13
Since the core strategy of the BUMMER business model is to let the system adapt automatically to engage you as much as possible, and since negative emotions can be utilized more readily, of course such a system is going to tend to find a way to make you feel bad. It will dole out sparse charms14 in between the doldrums as well, since the autopilot that tugs at your emotions will discover that the contrast between treats and punishment is more effective than either treats or punishment alone. Addiction is associated with anhedonia, the lessened ability to take pleasure from life apart from whatever one is addicted to, and social media addicts appear to be prone to long-term anhedonia. 15
An insecurity, a feeling of not making the grade, a fear of rejection, out of nowhere.
This feeling was coincident with discovering my inner troll, which I described in the argument about assholes, but it could also be felt distinctly. I took an experimental approach to myself. If I felt bad after using an internet design, what were its qualities? How was it different from designs that left me happy?
More and more people rely on the gig economy, which makes it hard to plan one’s life. Gig economy workers rarely achieve financial security, even after years of work. To put it another way, the level of risk in their financial lives seems to never decline, no matter how much they’ve achieved. In the United States, where the social safety net is meager, this means that even skilled, hardworking people may be made homeless by medical bills, even after years of dedicated service to their profession.
I hate raining on dreams, but if you think you are about to make a living as an influencer or similar, the statistics are voraciously against you, no matter how deserving you are and no matter how many get-rich-quick stories you’ve been fed.
The problem is that BUMMER economics allow for almost no remunerative roles for near-stars. In a genuine, deep economy, there are many roles. You might not become a pro football player, but you might get into management, sports media, or a world of other related professions. But there are vanishingly few economic roles adjacent to a star influencer. Have a backup plan.
Before the BUMMER era, the general thinking was that once a country went democratic, it not only stayed that way but would become ever more democratic, because its people would demand that. Unfortunately, that stopped being true, and only recently. 2 Something is drawing young people away from democracy.
What social media did at that time, and what it always does, is create illusions: that you can improve society by wishes alone; that the sanest people will be favored in cutting contests; and that somehow material well-being will just take care of itself. What actually happens, always, is that the illusions fall apart when it is too late, and the world is inherited by the crudest, most selfish, and least informed people. Anyone who isn’t an asshole gets hurt the most.
A year after the election, the truth started to trickle out. It turns out that some prominent “black” activist accounts were actually fake fronts for Russian information warfare. Component F. The Russian purpose was apparently to irritate black activists enough to lower enthusiasm for voting for Hillary. To suppress the vote, statistically.
Most of what happened was probably the “redlined” promotion of cynicism, a dismissive attitude, and a sense of hopelessness (“ redlining” refers to a sneaky way that U.S. banks historically biased creditworthiness algorithms to disfavor black neighborhoods). I
(As it happens, the individuals who work at BUMMER companies tend to be liberal and are probably mostly sympathetic to black activism, but that’s utterly irrelevant to their effect upon the world so long as they adhere to the mass manipulation business model.)
BUMMER is a shit machine. It transforms sincere organizing into cynical disruption. It’s inherently a cruel con game.
One activist reportedly said, “They are using our pain for their gain. I’m profoundly disgusted.” That is an informed, reasonable statement, and a brave one, for it is not easy to accept that one has been tricked.
Each of the arguments for deleting your accounts is at first glance about a practical issue, such as trust, but on closer inspection, the arguments confront the deepest and most tender concerns about what it means to be a person.
So BUMMER intrinsically enacts a structural, rather than an ontological, change in the nature of free will. It will continue to exist, if under a barrage of insults. The important change is that you now have less free will, and a few people whom you don’t know have more of it. Some of your free will has been transferred to them. Free will has become like money in a gilded age.
Believing something only because you learned it through a system is a way of giving your cognitive power over to that system.
The Enlightenment emphasized ways of learning that weren’t subservient to human power hierarchies. Instead, Enlightenment thinking celebrates evidence-based scientific method and reasoning.
Here are some tough truths: We currently don’t have a scientific description of a thought or a conversation. We don’t know how ideas are represented in a brain. We don’t know what an idea is, from a scientific point of view. That doesn’t mean we never will understand these things scientifically, just that we don’t yet understand them.
The foundation of the search for truth must be the ability to notice one’s own ignorance. Acknowledging ignorance is a beautiful feature that science and spirituality hold in common. BUMMER rejects it.
The purpose of life, according to BUMMER, is to optimize.
Facebook has pulled ahead: A recent revision in its statement of purpose includes directives like assuring that “every single person has a sense of purpose and community.” 5 A single company is going to see to it that every single person has a purpose, because it presumes that was lacking before. If that is not a new religion, I don’t know what is.
The best way you can help is not to attack those who would manipulate you from afar, but simply to free yourself.
You can even still watch YouTube videos, for now at least, without a Google account. Watching without an account and with some privacy plugins will give you access to a much less manipulative experience.
You can’t use the internet well until you’ve confronted it on your own terms, at least for a while. This is for your integrity, not just for saving the world.
However, unless and until you know yourself, even you won’t have standing to argue about what’s right for you.
You need to make sure your own brain, and your own life, isn’t in a rut. Maybe you can go explore wilderness or learn a new skill. Take risks. But whatever form your self-exploration takes, do at least one thing: detach from the behavior-modification empires for a while—six months, say? Note that I didn’t name this book Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now and Keeping Them Deleted Forever. After you experiment, you’ll know yourself better. Then decide.
Okay, anyone who knows me knows I am a big fan of Classic Stoicism, which is a far cry from Modern Stoicism which is essentially, "Grin, shut the f--- up, bear it," as best represented by the character Spock. Classic Stoicism is more about accepting reality as it is, being neither really happy nor really sad, knowing that pretty much everything but ourselves is outside of our control, recognizing fortune is fickle, and that we are all going to f'ing die so accept it already. There are elements of acceptance in Stoicism, but the acceptance is of things outside of our control, not for things inside of our control nor for things we can affect. As someone with a strong sense of fair play and a large amount of frustration with the lack of fairness in the world, I find Stoicism to be a way to endure the crappiness of being human.
Which is to say, I've been looking for a book that I can hand to people who are curious about Classic Stoicism, without suggesting they read a dozen books to gather the different parts into one cohesive unit, much as I would hand over a copy of Mindfulness in Plain English if asked for a book about mindfulness.
I think this book might be that book, that I recommend for Stoicism. Maybe. It's hard to beat Meditations and many of Seneca's works. I'll reread it at the end of the year and see if it holds up.
Yet, I do strongly recommend this book.
Although public criticism of religion (or of any idea) is the staple of a healthy democratic society, people don’t respond very well to being belittled and insulted.
Seneca connected this test to the rest of our existence on earth: “A man cannot live well if he knows not how to die well.”
Of course, Stoicism is a philosophy, not a type of therapy. The difference is crucial: a therapy is intended to be a short-term approach to helping people overcome specific problems of a psychological nature; it doesn’t necessarily provide a general picture, or philosophy, of life. A philosophy of life is something we all need, however, and something we all develop, consciously or not.
One of the first things he learned from his new teacher was to practice not being ashamed of things of which there is nothing to be ashamed.
Like Socrates before them—and unlike a number of other philosophers then and since—they were not interested in theory for theory’s sake. If philosophy was not useful to human life, then it wasn’t useful at all.
There are three departments in which a man who is to be good and noble must be trained. The first concerns the will to get and will to avoid; he must be trained not to fail to get what he wills to get nor fall into what he wills to avoid. The second is concerned with impulse to act and not to act, and, in a word, the sphere of what is fitting: that we should act in order, with due consideration, and with proper care. The object of the third is that we may not be deceived, and may not judge at random, and generally it is concerned with assent.
Moreover, biologists have systematically been finding that a long list of allegedly unique human traits are actually not unique to us at all. We are not the only animals to live in cooperatively social groups, nor the only ones to use tools. Nor are we the only species with complex communication abilities, nor even the only ones displaying what we would call moral behavior (which can be seen among bonobos and other primates).
In the end, it seems that neither biological variation nor cultural diversity can be reasonably deployed to reject what the ancients thought was obvious: we are a very different species from anything else that planet Earth has produced over billions of years of evolution, both for better (our stunning cultural and technological achievements) and for worse (the environmental destruction and the pain and suffering we have imposed on other species as well as on our own).
When we consult the belly, or our passions, when our actions are random or dirty or inconsiderate, are we not falling away to the state of sheep? What do we destroy? The faculty of reason.
The Stoics perfected this idea of ethical development and called it oikeiôsis, which is often translated as “familiarization with” or “appropriation of” other people’s concerns as if they were our own.
First, it is a forceful reminder that they were interested in practice, not just theory: their aphorisms were meant to benefit the prokoptôn, that is, to help the student of Stoicism make progress. Unlike modern bumper stickers, T-shirt slogans, and so forth, which primarily signal membership in a particular group and tend to be used as a metaphorical club with which to beat those who are not like-minded, Stoic stock phrases were employed by practitioners as personal reminders, as aids for daily meditation, or as a guide to behavior when they were in doubt.
Being vegetarian, in and of itself, is no proof of superior moral quality, but it is a good thing to do if other considerations do not outweigh that choice.
We live in far too intricate social environments to be able to always do the right thing, or even to do the right thing often enough to know with sufficient confidence what the right thing is to begin with. Most of the different demands made on us have an ethical dimension (animal suffering, environmental damage, the treatment of waiters), but some are also more practical (I need to eat, but where is my food coming from? I need to bank, but which bank am I supporting?).
Stoicism is about developing the tools to deal as effectively as humanly possible with the ensuing conflicts, does not demand perfection, and does not provide specific answers: those are for fools (Epictetus’s word) who think the world is black and white, good versus evil, where it is always possible to clearly tell the good guys from the bad guys. That is not the world we live in, and to pretend otherwise is more than a bit dangerous and not at all wise.
In other words, by all means go ahead and avoid pain and experience joy in your life—but not when doing so imperils your integrity. Better to endure pain in an honorable manner than to seek joy in a shameful one.
I would be intellectually dishonest, however, if I did not put forth my own opinion, just as I did during my friendly chat with Epictetus. This is what good philosophers—and reasonable people in general—are supposed to do: listen to each other’s arguments, learn and reflect, and go out for a beer to talk it over some more.
Hume’s point is subtle but crucial: he is basically saying that arguments from analogies, of which the one from design is an example, are notoriously problematic because analogies are always imperfect, and in some cases downright misleading.
The only difference between human beings and other animals is that we are capable of the highest attribute of God/ Universe: reason. That is why the proper way to live our lives is by using reason to tackle our problems.
Seneca aptly put it, “That which is true is mine,” meaning that a reasonable person makes truth her own, regardless of whether it comes from friends or foes.
One of the things that attracted me to it from the get-go is precisely what others may consider one of its weaknesses: given the Stoic ambiguity over how to interpret the Logos, Stoics can build a very large tent indeed, welcoming everyone from atheists to agnostics, from pantheists and panentheists to theists, as long as none of these guests impose their own metaphysical views on the others.
‘And I am bound to say what seems right to me.’ ‘But, if you say it, I shall kill you.’ ‘When did I tell you that I was immortal? You will do your part, and I mine. It is yours to kill, mine to die without quailing: yours to banish, mine to go into exile without groaning.’
Conservatives tend to talk a lot about both character and virtue, even when they do not actually practice the latter, while liberals reflexively treat their valorization as thinly disguised tools of oppression.
The reason why wisdom is the “chief good,” according to Socrates, is rather simple: it is the only human ability that is good under every and all circumstances.
To be sure, being wealthy is better than being poor, being healthy is better than being sick, and being educated is better than being ignorant (standard pairs of preferred and dispreferred indifferents).
The Stoics adopted Socrates’s classification of four aspects of virtue, which they thought of as four tightly interlinked character traits: (practical) wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. Practical wisdom allows us to make decisions that improve our eudaimonia, the (ethically) good life. Courage can be physical, but more broadly refers to the moral aspect—for instance, the ability to act well under challenging circumstances, as Priscus and Malala did. Temperance makes it possible for us to control our desires and actions so that we don’t yield to excesses. Justice, for Socrates and the Stoics, refers not to an abstract theory of how society should be run, but rather to the practice of treating other human beings with dignity and fairness.
Basically, Aquinas kept the four Stoic virtues and added three peculiarly Christian ones, originally proposed by Paul of Tarsus: faith, hope, and charity.
a set of six “core” virtues: Courage: Emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal; examples include bravery, perseverance, and authenticity (honesty). Justice: Civic strengths that underlie healthy community life; examples include fairness, leadership, and citizenship or teamwork. Humanity: Interpersonal strengths that involve “tending and befriending” others; examples include love and kindness. Temperance: Strengths that protect against excess; examples include forgiveness, humility, prudence, and self-control. Wisdom: Cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge; examples include creativity, curiosity, judgment, and perspective (providing counsel to others). Transcendence: Strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and thereby provide meaning; examples include gratitude, hope, and spirituality.
at the center of the Cynic-Stoic concept of cosmopolitanism: the idea that we ought to extend the sympathy we have for kin to our friends, acquaintances, fellow countrymen, and beyond to humanity at large (and even, some Stoics hinted, to the suffering of sentient animals).
conservatives insisting that we should go back to emphasizing character in schools, families, and the country at large, and liberals rejecting such talk as a not-so-subtle attempt to maintain white male privilege, patriarchy, and the like.
In other words, your character is your best calling card, and if you interact with good judges of character, that’s all you’ll need.
Indeed, what will be needed are exactly the fundamental virtues: the courage to do the right thing under difficult circumstances, the temperance to rein in excesses, a sense of justice in considering how people are going to be affected by his decisions, and of course the practical wisdom that will allow him to negotiate treacherous and always-changing waters.
Epictetus used an apt seafaring metaphor to make a related point: For the helmsman to wreck his vessel, he does not need the same resources, as he needs to save it: if he turn it but a little too far to the wind, he is lost; yes, and if he do it not deliberately but from mere want of attention, he is lost all the same. It is very much the same in life: if you doze but a little, all that you have amassed up till now leaves you. Keep awake then and watch your impressions: it is no trifle you have in keeping, but self-respect, honor, constancy, a quiet mind, untouched by distress, or fear, or agitation—in a word, freedom. What are you going to sell all this for? Look and see what your purchase is worth.
And above all, we need to be cognizant of what our integrity is worth: if we decide to sell it, it shouldn’t be for cheap.
One of the intriguing characteristics of the piece is that it can be (and has been) read either as a tale of misogyny and xenophobia (Medea is a woman and a barbarian) or as a proto-feminist story of a woman’s struggle in a patriarchal society.
‘Suppose I am in error, my father, and ignorant of what is fitting and proper for me. If, then, this cannot be taught or learnt, why do you reproach me? If it can be taught, teach me, and, if you cannot, let me learn from those who say that they know.
The point is that nobody errs on purpose. Whatever we do, we think it is the right thing to do, according to whatever criterion we have developed or adopted to establish right action.
Part of the controversy hinged on the idea Arendt developed that “evil” is often the result of lack of thought, meaning that people usually don’t want to do evil, and certainly don’t think of themselves as evildoers. But they also tend to follow the general opinion without critical analysis, and indeed—as in Eichmann’s case—they are often convinced that they are doing a good job.
There’s simply the reluctance ever to imagine what the other person is experiencing, correct?
If what we are doing is simply labeling a particularly nasty type of bad behavior, then there is little problem. But not infrequently, when we talk of evil, we slide into a fallacy known as “reification” (literally, making a thing), which means speaking of a concept as if it has some kind of mind-independent existence, as if it is in some sense “out there.”
It has no metaphysical consistency: it is simply a shorthand for the really, really bad stuff that people do, or for the really, really bad character that leads people to do said stuff.
“A-gnoia means literally ‘not-knowing’; a-mathia means literally ‘not-learning.’ In addition to the type of amathia that is an inability to learn, there is another form that is an unwillingness to learn.… Robert Musil in an essay called On Stupidity, distinguished between two forms of stupidity, one he called ‘an honorable kind’ due to a lack of natural ability and another, much more sinister kind, that he called ‘intelligent stupidity.’”
Medea knew it was wrong to make her children suffer to punish Jason, but emotion (vengeance), not reason, drove her to act as she did. Epictetus
That is, Medea did not wish to err, but was simply convinced that she was doing the right thing.
Cognitive dissonance is a very uncomfortable psychological state that occurs when someone becomes aware of the conflict between two judgments that he holds to be equally true. People do not want to experience cognitive dissonance, just as Epictetus said that people do not want to knowingly be in error.
The uncomfortable truth is, again, that people suffering from cognitive dissonance are neither stupid nor ignorant.
As the writer Michael Shermer has observed, the more clever people are, the better they are at rationalizing away the sources of their cognitive dissonance.
As far as the rest of us are concerned, remembering that people do bad things out of lack of wisdom is not only a reminder to be compassionate toward others, it also constantly tells us just how important it is to develop wisdom.
I had moved to the United States from Rome a couple of years earlier, and the whole idea of televised debates as “infotainment” was very new to me.
When he was asked in an interview who didn’t make it out of the Hanoi Hilton, Stockdale replied: Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh,
Stockdale understood an important truth about war that applies to life in general: holding the moral high ground and maintaining self-respect is more important than the facts on the ground, be they the weaponry on each side (in the case of war) or the circumstances of our ordinary lives.
The results were striking: those who had spent less than two years in confinement said that torture was the worst; those who had spent more than two years in isolation said that the latter experience trumped even torture.
Stockdale interpreted Rutledge’s finding in the light of Epictetus’s teachings—that it is shame, not physical pain, that truly brings down a human being.
Observing and imitating role models, then, is one powerful way to work on our own virtue.
The problem nowadays is that, by and large, we do a pretty bad job of picking role models. We glorify actors, singers, athletes, and generic “celebrities,”
A similar problem arises with the contemporary, highly inflated use of the word “hero,” especially in the United States. Some brave people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for the common good truly deserve that appellative (though they don’t have to be almost exclusively drawn from the ranks of the military or the police). But someone who dies, say, as a result of a terrorist attack is not a hero—he is a victim. He probably did not display courage and other-regard; he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We should most certainly mourn him, but labeling him a “hero” does not do justice to what actually happened, and it does a great injustice to actual heroes, confusing people about the very meaning of the term.
The other thing to remember about role models—and the Stoics understood this very well—is that they are not perfect human beings, for the simple reason that there is no such thing. Moreover, making perfection an integral part of our concept of role model means that we are setting a standard that is impossibly high.
For Christians, the model of universally good behavior is Jesus, but that’s a tough role model to actually attempt to emulate, since believers are literally trying to be like gods. Bound to fail, we have to accept the divinity’s mercy as our path to salvation.
For instance, in 72 bce, he volunteered to fight against the rebel slave Spartacus, clearly not having paused to consider that the revolt might have been a reaction to extreme injustice.
But that would be exactly the wrong way to look at him, because it would be an attempt to make him a godlike figure capable of doing what no human being can do: completely transcend his own upbringing.
“Alea iacta est” (The die is cast).
by hearing about great deeds that we not only become inspired by what human beings at their best can do, but also are implicitly reminded of just how much easier most of our lives actually are.
Larry’s first point is to realize the importance of agency. It has been crucial for him to feel like an agent in the world, not a patient.
After you have reclaimed your agency, Larry points out, you are in the same position as everyone else: you have to become good at being an agent. This, he says, requires lining up the following elements: values, preferences, goals, deliberations, decisions, and actions. If these are incoherent, incomplete, or weak, then you are paralyzed no matter what your physical condition happens to be. You can also be paralyzed by indecision, because you are not committed to a particular course of action and wish to keep multiple possibilities open. Facing too many choices on the menu, or too many cars on the dealer’s lot, isn’t a good thing, as modern cognitive science clearly shows. To complicate things, there is the fact that the world itself changes, requiring constant adjustments to our goals, decisions, and actions. In other words, we need to learn how to maintain agency under changing circumstances.
Knowing our physical and psychological abilities includes knowing our limits. Ignorance, or worse, self-deception about our own abilities can be very dangerous. We need to keep an up-to-date, accurate account of what is possible for us.
Larry also counsels us to train ourselves to recognize when we have lost a good fit between our abilities and our activities. We must develop what he calls an internal alarm system, which will tell us when it’s time to stop suffering and begin (or resume) taking charge.
Rather, Larry suggests making a habit of reflecting on what is important to us and on the best way to achieve it, and also to continuously revise our life plan, according to our changing abilities and circumstances. Our dynamic plan should be coherent, ambitious, achievable, revisable, and—ideally—compatible with a generally rising level of life satisfaction.
Lastly, Larry cautions us to beware of brick walls. We need to recognize them when we hit them; even better is to see them coming before we hit them hard. The
To begin with, he says that one of the crucial things for people affected by depression is to constantly monitor themselves and their mental condition. If there is anything that Stoicism trains people to do it is to monitor their own reactions and reflect critically on how they perceive and interpret the world.
suffering from a depression that stemmed in part from the gulf he had gradually realized existed between his expectations about his life and the world, on the one hand, and his life and the world as they were, on the other hand.
“Depressed people are rather self-aware; in fact, they are too self-aware, and too negatively so, often deriding themselves for small infractions of their own idealized standards, putting themselves down for not being perfect even in a world they recognize as being full of imperfections and human capital squandered.
For one thing, I have become a collector of insults: On being insulted, I analyze and categorize the insult. For another thing, I look forward to being insulted inasmuch as it affords me the opportunity to perfect my ‘insult game.’
Think of Irvine’s “insult game”: what someone says to us is his opinion, which may or may not be grounded in fact. Whether we perceive someone else’s remark as an insult or not is entirely up to us, quite regardless of the intention of our interlocutor.
Well, is it true? At one time in my life it was. In which case, why get offended? What does it even mean to feel insulted by a fact? Conversely, is it not true? Then the fellow who hurled the insult is both childish in his behavior and factually wrong. How is that going to injure me? If anything, he is the one who loses in the confrontation.
The basic idea, again adopted by modern cognitive behavioral therapy and similar approaches, is to regularly focus on potentially bad scenarios, repeating to yourself that they are not in fact as bad as they may seem, because you have the inner resources to deal with them.
Now, why would anyone, let alone someone who is depressed, want to imagine the worst on purpose? Well, for one thing there is the empirical observation that it actually works: visualizing negative happenings decreases our fear of them and mentally prepares us to deal with the crisis when and if it ensues. But there is a flip side to visualizing the negative: we gain a renewed sense of gratitude and appreciation for all the times when bad things do not happen to us, when we leisurely drive down the road on a beautiful day or enjoy the presence of our loved ones because they are very much alive and well.
Seneca wrote about self-knowledge and suggested that sometimes we are the worst obstacles to our own improvement: we see where we should go, which is where we want to go, and yet somehow we can’t pick ourselves up and begin the journey.
all the major Stoic authors insist that it is crucial that we reflect on our condition and truly make an effort to see things in a different light, one that is both more rational and more compassionate.
The second point Epictetus makes is crucial: we are so distraught about the prospect of our own death precisely because, unlike wheat and most other species on earth presumably, we are capable of contemplating that thought. And yet, knowing something does not change the nature of the thing of course—it just changes our attitude about it.
the fundamental Stoic idea of the dichotomy of control: death itself is not under our control (it will happen one way or another), but how we think about death most definitely is under our control.
“Will you realize once for all that it is not death that is the source of all man’s evils, and of a mean and cowardly spirit, but rather the fear of death?
Those around us cannot cure our illness or save us from death, but they can accompany us part of the way, comforting us before we get there.
“What do you mean by ‘die’?” Epictetus corrected me. “Do not use fine words, but state the facts as they are. Now is the time for your material part to be restored to the elements of which it was composed. What is there dreadful in that?
If so, how would an already diseased planet sustain the thirst for natural resources of a population that grows so relentlessly and manage its ever-escalating production of waste products?
Others must come into being, even as you did, and being born must have room and dwellings and necessaries. But if the first comers do not retire, what is left for them?
Just as, for the Stoics, death itself is what gives urgent meaning to life, the possibility of leaving life voluntarily gives us the courage to do what is right under otherwise unbearable circumstances.
It is, in other words, our own judgment that tells us whether it is time to walk through the open door or whether we should stay and fight another day.
he was a flawed man (as he himself repeatedly wrote) who tried his best under nearly impossible circumstances. Seneca succeeded in guiding Nero and containing the damage for the first five years of his reign, even if he eventually lost control of the increasingly unhinged emperor.
Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther
It is not in our power to make thievery disappear from the world, but it is in our power to engage in a battle of attention with thieves, if we think that’s worth our efforts and time.
And Seneca explicitly advised taking a deep breath and going for a walk around the block upon first feeling the uncontrollable rise of rage, which he considered a type of temporary madness.
The APA tells us to change standard phrases like “this is terrible!” to something along the lines of “I’d rather not have to deal with this, but I can manage it, and getting angry isn’t going to help me at all.”
Epictetus—reminds us: “Logic defeats anger, because anger, even when it’s justified, can quickly become irrational. So use cold hard logic on yourself.”
we need to realize that—contra common cultural belief—it just isn’t the case that every problem has a solution. We therefore need to cut ourselves some slack for not being able to solve everything, so long as we have done all we can reasonably do under the circumstances.
Additional suggestions from professional psychologists include changing your environment, for instance, by taking a physical break from the problematic situation; shifting the timing of your interaction with another person if the present moment seems not to be the best time to handle the problem, but being sure to set an alternative time for coming back to it in order to send the signal that you are not dodging it; practicing avoidance by not exposing yourself, if possible, to the cause of your distress; and finding alternative ways of doing what you need to do that may reduce the opportunity for conflict while still allowing you to accomplish your goals.
Killeen distinguishes loneliness from similar, yet separate, related concepts, such as alienation (which may be the result, or in some cases the cause, of depression) and solitude (which actually has a positive connotation, more akin to my own behavior).
The Killeen paper provides a handy summary diagram identifying a series of causes related to our situations and our characters that lead to loneliness, including bereavement, psychological vulnerability, reduced social network, depression, and radical life changes.
As Killeen says: there is no reason to be embarrassed because (some degree of) loneliness is a natural condition for humanity, and Stoics reject the whole idea of embarrassment, especially with respect to societal expectations, because we have no influence over other people’s judgments, only over our own behavior.
We may have little or no control over the external circumstances that force us into being alone at some times in our lives. But (save for pathological conditions, for which one needs to seek medical help), it is our choice, our own attitude, that turns solitude into loneliness. We may be alone, but we do not consequently need to feel helpless.
The point, rather, is that human affection needs to be guided—trained even—by a sound assessment of whatever situation triggers our feelings.
true friendship, like true love, is revealed when the going gets tough, not when things are nice and easy.
friendship of the good is that rare phenomenon when two people enjoy each other for their own sake because they find in each other an affinity of character that does not require externalities like a business exchange or a hobby. In those cases, our friends become, as Aristotle famously put it, mirrors to our souls, helping us grow and become better persons just because they care about us.
Each day reread Epictetus’s words several times, whenever you have a minute, and focus on putting into practice that day a specific piece of advice.
four Stoic virtues: (Practical) wisdom: Navigating complex situations in the best available fashion Courage: Doing the right thing, both physically and morally, under all circumstances Justice: Treating every human being—regardless of his or her stature in life—with fairness and kindness Temperance: Exercising moderation and self-control in all spheres of life
1. Examine your impressions.
stepping back to make room for rational deliberation, avoiding rash emotional reactions, and asking whether whatever is being thrown at us is under our control (in which case we should act on it) or isn’t (in which case we should regard it as not of our concern).
2. Remind yourself of the impermanence of things.
we should constantly remind ourselves of just how precious our loved ones are precisely because they may soon be gone. Anyone
“Memento homo” (Remember, you are only a man).
I always regretted the way I responded to my father’s illness—until Stoicism taught me that regret is about things we can no longer change and the right attitude is to learn from our experiences, not dwell on decisions that we are not in a position to alter. Which
None of this made the experience any less hard, since Stoicism isn’t a magic wand. But I tried my best to be present in the hic et nunc, the here and now, as the Romans used to say.
he is advising us to care and appreciate very much what we now have, precisely because Fate may snatch it from us tomorrow.
3. The reserve clause.
I love the “which is impossible if I go all to pieces whenever anything bad happens” bit. It conjures an image of people who are too fragile to withstand even minor challenges in life because they let themselves be fragile. They always assume that of course things will go well, since bad things only happen to other people (possibly because they somehow deserve them). Instead, as Stoics, we should bring the reserve clause to anything we do, and even use it as a personal mantra: Fate permitting.
There is a nice analogy in Stoic lore meant to explain the point. It is attributed to Chrysippus—the third head of the original Stoa of Athens—and was allegedly recounted in one of Epictetus’s lost volumes of the Discourses. Imagine a dog who is leashed to a cart. The cart begins to move forward, in whatever direction the driver, but certainly not the dog, chooses. Now, the leash is long enough that the dog has two options: either he can gingerly follow the general direction of the cart, over which he has no control, and thereby enjoy the ride and even have time to explore his surroundings and attend to some of his own business, or he can stubbornly resist the cart with all his might and end up being dragged, kicking and screaming, for the rest of the trip, accumulating much pain and frustration and wasting his time in a futile and decidedly unpleasant effort. We humans are, of course, the dog: the universe keeps churning according to God’s will (if you have religious inclinations) or cosmic cause and effect (if your taste is more secular).
Rather, it is to deploy the wisdom that sometimes things will not go our way even if we do our best, and regardless of whether we deserved to win the match or get the promotion.
4. How can I use virtue here and now? “For every challenge, remember the resources you have within you to cope with it.
you cannot control disease and pain, and it will happen at some point or another in your life. But you can manage it, not just with medications (there is certainly nothing in Stoic doctrine that precludes the use of medicine when appropriate), but also by way of your own mental attitude.
5. Pause and take a deep breath. “Remember, it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation.
Naturally, it is far easier to maintain equanimity (which, again, is not to be confused with emotional impassivity!) when little inconveniences, or even disasters, happen to others rather than to ourselves.
Accidents, injuries, disease, and death are unavoidable, and while it is understandable to be distraught over them
we can take comfort in knowing that they are in the normal order of things. The universe isn’t after anyone—or at least, it isn’t after any one of us in particular!
7. Speak little and well. “Let silence be your goal
Why should we care at all about what the Kardashians (or any other celebrities of the moment) are doing? To say that an interest in such matters is the hallmark of a rather shallow mind sounds elitist of course, and therefore distasteful to our modern sensibilities, but only because we have been conditioned to think that “serious” talk is boring and at any rate requires more background knowledge and attention than most of us associate with good conversation.
8. Choose your company well.
people who are interested in following virtue and cultivating their character.
Even more generally, this is simply the sound advice that our life is short, temptation and waste are always lurking, and so we need to pay attention to what we are doing and who our companions are.
we want to be with friends who are better than ourselves, so that we can learn from them. At the very least, we want our friends to be the sort of people who can hold up a mirror to our soul, so that we can look into it frankly and gain a better idea of just how much work needs to be done on it
9. Respond to insults with humor.
“If you learn that someone is speaking ill of you, don’t try to defend yourself against the rumors; respond instead with, ‘Yes, and he doesn’t know the half of it, because he could have said more.’”
I have begun to internalize the concept that an insult works, not because it is intended as such by the person who delivers it, but because the target allows it to become an insult.
The more you train yourself to endure insults the stronger you feel psychologically, and therefore the more you can react appropriately and effectively, and vice versa: taking a stance against bullying enables you to see it for the infantile attitude that it really is (even, or especially, when engaged in by “adults”), and this insight then leads to the fostering of greater resilience.
Is this person a friend or someone you look up to? If yes, then it is more likely that she is just offering advice, perhaps in a somewhat pointed fashion, but with good intentions nonetheless.
10. Don’t speak too much about yourself.
It feels good because, as we have seen with a number of the other exercises—and indeed as the Stoics themselves clearly recognized—there is a peculiar pleasure in being able to exercise some self-control.
gym. I don’t know about you, but when I get to my local gym and someone from behind the reception desk smiles and greets me with a loud and cheerful, “Enjoy your workout!” the first thought that comes to my mind is: Who on earth enjoys working out? Yes, I know, some people actually do enjoy it, but most of us don’t. And yet, it is the sort of thing we do because we have reflected on the benefits of doing it and decided that the gain is worth the pain, as they say. But it is also the case that once we get to the end of the workout and head to the shower, we feel a peculiar sort of satisfaction, not only from the physiological benefits of the exercise but also from being able to pat ourselves on the back and say: it was hard, we didn’t really want to do it, but we did it!
11. Speak without judging.
The idea is to distinguish between matters of fact—to which we can assent if we find them justified by observation—and judgments, from which we generally ought to abstain, since we usually don’t have sufficient information.
12. Reflect on your day.
“Admit not sleep into your tender eyelids till you have reckoned up each deed of the day—How have I erred, what done or left undone? So start, and so review your acts, and then for vile deeds chide yourself, for good be glad.”
conceal nothing from myself, and omit nothing: for why should I be afraid of any of my shortcomings, when it is in my power to say, “I pardon you this time: see that you never do that anymore”?…
I would argue that this book is less a how to book on aging and more a plea for those who have not yet aged to the point of infirmary or elderly or even somewhat slowing down to be more considerate of those who are aged.
"Aged" has so many different meanings these days. Used to be old was 50, now it's when you stop living, when you give up, when the years of treating your physical and mental health for shit and said years come rumbling back on top of you. If you're still active, if you're still learning, if you move and think and moderate, then the sagging skin doesn't sag as much, the white hair doesn't matter as much, and the joys of living are larger than the accumulated pains of living.
Sadly, I don't know that I'd have been positively influenced in any meaningful way if I had read this book when young. Currently being in the middle, not young, not old, I'd have to say I see the wall of old age that I'm going to crash into, but it won't be head first. I'm going feet first with the intent of jumping off it.
Growing old means "still alive" and what a "privilege" (the book's word) that would be!
This book is worth reading, as many of the School of Life books are, I recommend it.
It sees ageing as a lifelong process, not something confined to its latter stages, and an opportunity to develop –indeed an intrinsic part of life itself.
A long life signals that we’re privileged, either through genetic serendipity, affluence or sheer luck.
This acknowledgement of ageing involves mourning, because there are inevitable losses associated with getting older, whether in function
or the death of friends and family, or the recognition of one’s own mortality.
Gina’s fear of ageing is directed at some amorphous, creeping, malign change, which prevents her from appreciating the benefits that she has already derived from the ageing process.
The capacity to be surprised, curious and engaged isn’t the prerogative of young people
and indeed it can intensify as we age.
The man-child holds on tightly to his video games and comics, and refuses to change. He equates being grown up with joylessness.
But perhaps it’s less about having a mortgage or a pension and more about learning to take responsibility for your spending; about being able to defer gratification instead of insisting ‘I want it now’; about not saying the first thing that comes into your head and thinking about other people as well as yourself?
similarly, we can try to foster in ourselves qualities that deepen and enrich over the years. These qualities differ for each of us, but for most people they include finding enduring sources of meaning –in work, or through relationships, interests or making a social contribution; getting to know themselves; making genuine contact with other people; and developing the capacity to love –whether people, ideas or experiences.
But the ability to laugh, like any other emotional facility, develops through use, and finding oneself convulsed with laughter, decades after childhood when it’s so common, is sweet indeed.
It’s much easier to adopt this outlook if we don’t take a long lifespan for granted, but recognize instead that it isn’t given to the majority of people in the world, especially the developing world: that to age is in fact to be blessed.
Those who age best are those who travel lightest, who can jettison the prescriptive ideas they’ve cleaved to at one stage of their lives when they find them ill-suited to another. A certain suppleness of spirit is needed.
Letting go of old narratives can be an extremely painful business: it involves mourning what never happened as well as what did, and admitting failure, wrong-headedness and poor decisions. Most unforgivably, it demands that we recognize that life unfurls beyond our control.
For to age is to live and to live is to age, and being anti-age (as so many products proudly proclaim themselves) is tantamount to being anti-life.
By embracing age we embrace the life process itself, with all its pain, joy and difficulty. If
metaphors). We’re no longer at risk of an invasion of triffids or Martians but of old people –invariably portrayed as a major social problem and a drain on resources, rather than as a resource themselves.
What they don’t realize is that they’re banking disgust that they’ll have to draw on themselves –ourselves.
this unique feature of ageism: that it’s prejudice against one’s future self.
It’s fuelled, as we’ll see, by a refusal to admit that we too will age –by a profound dis-identification with old people.
people. Clare Temple in Norah Hoult’s remarkable 1944 novel, There Were No Windows, is a woman aware of her creeping dementia:
Older people are rarely referred for psychotherapy
because depression is seen as just another inevitable aspect of old age.
since third-agers like Sara and Clive have convinced themselves that, with enough discipline and self-control, the body can always be transcended. But it can’t. Perhaps
For the truth is that we all have to go into that good night eventually, gently or otherwise –to deny this is nothing more than magic thinking.
They encourage you to deal with the prejudice against old people not by challenging it but by trying not to look old.
It’s all very well intoning ‘use it or lose it’, but this doesn’t allow for the possibility that you may still lose it despite using it.
each time we see an older person, we need to imagine them as our future self, and, rather than recoil from their wrinkles or infirmities, applaud their resilience. We need to rehumanize older people, to attribute to them the same rich internal world, set of passions and network of complex human relationships that we assume exist in younger people and in ourselves.
At some point or other, age resistance becomes frankly futile –you’ll either die or start to look old –but the energy you use to accept the fact of ageing but refuse its stereotypes will serve you well for the rest of your life.
Although it might seem paradoxical, mourning is an essential part of ageing with gusto, because it helps you say goodbye to some features of life, freeing you to welcome in new ones.
We’ve learnt to assume that age will bring radical discontinuities to our lives, whether at 4 or 40. But it doesn’t. Perhaps this is one of the truths about ageing that we find hardest to learn.
Perhaps the greatest calumny committed against old people –and the one that most frightens the not-yet-old –is the belief that ageing causes us to leech vitality.
Cicero clocked this. People, said the Roman orator in De Senectute, his treatise on old age, ‘who have no resources in themselves for securing a good and happy life find every age burdensome.’
As Barbara Strauch, author of The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, observes, for years most research into ageing was conducted in nursing homes, where bodies and brains are rarely stimulated, and this shaped beliefs about what it means to get old.
Research at the University of Cambridge challenges the idea of cognitive ageing as a monolithic process of universal, inexorable, progressive decline.
One was that they’d never retire –it would be tantamount to retiring from life. Another was that they were highly satisfied with their lives. This suggests that physical activity, work or an absorbing interest of some kind, as well as consciously maintaining social networks, both enrich the ageing process.
Lighter can mean not spreading oneself so thinly, monotasking rather than multitasking, learning to say no. Yet in order to do this we may have to let go of a lifetime’s obsessions and grievances.
It reminds us that, ultimately, pain can be modified by optimism and love. Why is this so hard to remember?
A 100-year-old woman, when she was interviewed on radio, was asked if she had any regrets. ‘If I’d known I’d live to be 100’, she replied, ‘I’d have taken up the violin at 40. By now I could have been playing for 60 years!’
It’s not just older people who are scared of ‘getting left behind’ –all of us are having to learn to live with long-term precariousness; we’re all only as good as our last project.
This line of thought pits Us against Them and sees public policy as a zero-sum game: whatever They get leaves less for Us.
Interestingly, too, the countries that have the fewest inequalities between generations also have the fewest inequalities within them.
We’ve age-cleansed our society. Under the banner of welfare we’ve corralled old people into day-care centres and homes; removed them from families, schools, universities, workplaces, general-hospital wards and sports centres, creating age ghettoes. It might soon be perfectly possible to go through life without meeting an old person until you become one. No wonder the prospect of ageing is terrifying.
Indeed young people’s lack of contact with old people not only encourages them to believe that they’ll never get old, but also to treat old people as if they’d never been young.
Age segregation denies the fact that interests and preoccupations cross the ages: you can love reggae or oppose the renewal of Trident whatever your age –instead of age dividing us, passions can unite us.
Homeshare programmes around the world introduce older homeowners who’d value company and assistance to younger people threatened with homelessness. In the USA ‘cyber-grandparents’, aged 60 to 105, are supplied by the Elder Wisdom Circle to provide anonymous advice to people in their twenties and thirties.
A skincare company which surveyed a large number of them found that they become anxious about ‘losing their looks’ at around 28.
Clive always thought his own lines and greying hair made him look ‘distinguished’, but he’s noticed a growing number of his colleagues of the same age resorting to the chemical and surgical procedures they’d always dismissed as women’s territory.
And will the sexual older man ever lose the prefix ‘dirty’? The arrival of Viagra has only reinforced this description, confirming them as unreconstructed priapics and libertines. Though what it really demonstrates is precisely the opposite: that male sexuality can be a fragile thing.
It’s easy to understand why we feel flattered when told that we don’t look our age. But basking in compliments like these brings only short-term relief. In the long term they’re dangerous: they only allow us to defer our discomfort until the time when we do look our age.
The classicist Mary Beard, whenever she appears on television, has her appearance savaged on social media by trolls. Retorts Beard, ‘Grey is my hair colour. I really can’t see why I should change it. There clearly is a view of female normative behaviour but more women of 58 do look like me than like Victoria Beckham.’
Whenever grievances about the invisibility of older women are voiced, paradoxically they reveal how older women are becoming culturally more prominent. They’re speaking out because they aren’t prepared to withdraw from public life and debate purely on grounds of their age and gender.
When someone asked the German Princess Palatine in the eighteenth century at what age sexual desire disappeared, she replied, ‘How should I know? I’m only 80.’
Some are resourceful. Jane Juska put an ad in the New York Review of Books that read ‘Before I turn 67, next March, I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works fine.’
There is no template for ageing, or ageing well. The best way is one’s own way.
The first British Older Women’s Cohousing project, set to open in 2015, is a creative new way of maintaining independence while also combating isolation: its first residents, currently aged between 50 and 84, will own or rent their own flat but also have communal areas and will look out for each other.
As with history, so with gender: the more we’re able to understand how ageist assumptions shape our thoughts and behaviour, the less hold they’ll have over us. If you recognize, for example, how far women are judged by their appearance and men by their vigour, you’ll find it easier, as you leave your teens and twenties, to situate and challenge those stereotypes of the woman who’s losing her looks and the man whose vigour is ebbing away.
Since 1951 no one in the USA has died of old age. This was the year old age was deleted as a cause of death from death certificates; from then on you could only die of a disease.
Severing any link between ageing and death is another manifestation of our denial of death –death has to go underground, and not just literally.
Along with gerontophobia, our culture suffers from thanatophobia, an overwhelming fear of death.
more people now die in hospital or a nursing home than in their own home. Such is the taboo against death that children are often excluded from the funerals of relatives on the grounds that ‘it will upset them’, though they often later express regret that they had no opportunity to say goodbye.
In highly individualistic cultures death seems like a personal affront, a narcissistic wound, an attack on our individual subjectivity.
researchers have found, for example, that nursing staff with high levels of ‘death anxiety’ have significantly more negative attitudes to older people.
Death, when it approaches, ought not to take one by surprise. It should be part of the full expectancy of life.
At ‘Death Cafe’ events, people come together in a relaxed and safe setting to discuss death, drink tea and eat cake.
Maggie Kuhn used to encourage people to compile a life line or life review from their birth. When she urged them to also put in the year they thought they’d die, people always gasped. She maintained, though, that this helped raise their consciousness of their own death. For once you start to really take on board the fact that you’re going to die, old age becomes a lot less terrifying: it means you’re not dead yet.
‘Symmetry’, a TV ad for Marie Curie Cancer Care, attracted almost universal praise when it was launched in 2013.
People who live their earlier lives as if they’re never going to age often find retirement and the loss of a professional identity particularly traumatic: they’ve failed to cultivate those qualities that can endure, and without the containing structure imposed by work, even if they complained about it at the time, they’re at a loss.
In addition, researchers at King’s College London have found that twenty-two molecules already present when we’re born are linked to our health in old age.
In a slim cowritten volume called Aging: The Fulfillment of Life, first
Germany is now ‘exporting’ –some call it ‘deporting’ –thousands of old and sick Germans to retirement and rehabilitation centres in Eastern Europe and Asia because it’s cheaper. This is ‘disowning’ old people literally.
Powerlessness is perhaps the hardest state for us to tolerate today.
We say that we cannot be human all by ourselves; we need each other.
Psychotherapist Marie de Hennezel has observed many older people entrusting their body to other people’s care with grace, and without embarrassment or humiliation. It’s as if they help their carers look after them.
Yet at every stage of life some attachments need to be given up for others to develop, in order to move forward.
Mourning creates a space in which a sense of gratitude can develop –gratitude for what remains, or for what unfolds in place of what’s been lost.
Maggie Kuhn saw older people in precisely the opposite way. In the vanguard of social change, they’re society’s futurists –testing out new instruments, technologies, ideas and styles of living.
The ones who fare best not only care about what they leave behind for the next generation, but are also able to keep learning from people both older and younger than themselves.
Those who urge us to fight ageing are, in effect, inviting us to stop growing and developing. In so doing, they’re depriving us of the opportunity to carry out and successfully complete the task of being alive and human.
Gina is also coming to realize that growing older is a privilege which, instead of fearing, she might do better to hope for. (Hope I age –what a slogan this would be!) In short, she has started to understand that ageing is a process, and not a crisis.
Or the right for old people to remain embodied: as much as younger people, older people need to touch and be touched; to taste good food; to stretch, move and dance.
Acknowledging death graces us with a sense of perspective: it reminds us that we have only a finite number of breaths; it makes us ask ourselves ‘How will I feel when I get to the end of my life having done/ without having done this?’
For the novelist Edith Wharton it was being ‘unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.’ The cellist Pablo Casals, when asked by one of his pupils why, at the age of 91, he continued to practise, replied, ‘Because I am making progress.’
I was trying to finish this book before the end of last year, as January is going to be a non-fiction only month for me.
I didn't make it, so this is the first book of the new year that I have finished!
I picked up this book because "by Claire North" and, let's be real, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was a fun read. This was also on NPR's recommended list, so I figured I'd read it.
While I believe I understand the message of the book (that when you put a price tag on people's lives, the system is incentivized to profit off of everything people do, to the detriment of the system), I didn't really enjoy this book. The format of past to present to past was good story-telling, I liked that aspect.
North (a pseudonym) has a number of other books, so I'll likely try another of hers. This book has good reviews from others, so maybe just me?
The man whose name was sometimes Theo Miller had been twenty-two years old when they abolished human rights. The government insisted it was necessary to counter terrorism and bring stable leadership to the country.
They wavered, avoiding each other’s gaze. Finally Theo mumbled, looking at some place a few hundred miles above and a little to the left of her forehead, “Are you …”
Love this description, "few hundred miles above."
If you’re rich enough, you get to pay less tax if you turn yourself into a company, and if you’re a company you can buy a parole.
But as the years went by, anger had faded.
Most things faded, given time.
Good rate of return that, decent interest on time spent, I respect that, I understand that, not my language but it’s my song.
[D]reams were for children and she was a grown-up now. Grown-ups just dealt with things. They carried on—that’s what being grown-up meant.
Beyond, the world carries on.
Vagrants could be Tasered on sight in this part of the city—they caused emotional distress, and emotional distress was basically assault.
By night Mala Choudhary practised Muay Thai. She won most of her fights but found those she lost more exciting.
He used to see them sometimes in the snarling boys who liked it when their dogs growled at passing strangers, because the dogs made people scared, and if people were scared of you then you were powerful, and if you were powerful, you mattered. Even if you didn’t know what mattering was good for.
The queen says this country is a slave state. That there aren’t any chains on our feet or beatings on our backs because there don’t need to be. Cos if you don’t play along with what the Company wants, you die. You die cos you can’t pay for the doctor to treat you. You die cos the police won’t come without insurance. Cos the fire brigade doesn’t cover your area, cos you can’t get a job, cos you can’t buy the food, cos the water stopped, cos there was no light at night and if that’s not slavery, if that’s not the world gone mad if that’s not … … but we got used to it. Just the way things are.
I don’t think it matters. We got taught not to care. It’ll pass. It’ll pass.
“Loneliness is a state of mind. You have to want something, to be lonely. You have to need some sort of reassurance, someone to tell you that this is who you are. I’m not lonely. I don’t want anything."
"Our lives exist in many different, contradictory states, all at once. I am a liar. I am a killer. I am honest. I am fighting for a good cause. I am burning the world. We want things simple, and safe, and when they aren’t, when the truth is something complicated, something hard, or scary, we stop. The words run out. Everything becomes …”
“It’s how it happens, of course. The worst of it. Not ‘My neighbour has been taken to be burned alive, their house stolen, their children dead and I am so, so scared to speak of it.’ Just ‘They went away. Just—away.’ And we smile. And everyone else is as scared as we are, and knows what that smile means. Is grateful that you didn’t make the terror real. Thankful that you haven’t caused a stink. Because it would hurt … someone. Someone who isn’t a stranger would get hurt, if we ever managed to speak the truth of things. If we ever had the courage to say what we really think, even if it destroyed who we want the world to think we are. Who it is we think we should be. There would be too much pain. So we say nothing. Things just … trail away into a smile, which everyone understands and doesn’t have to mean a thing. We are grateful for that silence, for the thing that can’t be expressed. To fill it would be a terrible thing.”
There was probably a bit of love left, somewhere. It simply hadn’t been a priority for either of them.
"Then I started screaming too, just screaming, and it felt good. I’d never done nothing like that before but I was crying after, I screamed and then there was nothing left and I just cried and it was the best thing it was … They don’t bother me now. They’ve got this guy, this boss bloke, he goes to the sea every morning and rages at it. Just rages at it, cos of how he was born into this shit, and he didn’t ever find no way to make his life good, and he rages at the sky cos it never helped him, and at the earth cos it never carried him somewhere else, and his raging it’s … it’s sorta good, you know? It’s like going to church, only different like. Sometimes I scream, it’s like praying, but different."
"Is she dead?” An afterthought, a thing which was probable but which the girl hadn’t wanted to ask.
The sea the sky the earth they never carried me I hate them for letting me be born for making me breathe I hate them I hate—but she gotta love ’em. If she’s your daughter you gotta find her, you gotta help her be something which isn’t … you know.
Even thin ice can puncture the hull, can sink a narrowboat. They drown as they sleep they wake the water rushing down their noses it is.
Indecision. Martyrdom. Suspension of all things, a failure to act, the need to look at things from a new perspective, a willing victim a … Neila doesn’t like the word “victim.” If you’re “willing” then how are you a “victim”? Victim is the denial of choice …
Or maybe … maybe that’s unfair. Maybe they care. But caring isn’t the same as doing something, and doing something is hard. It’s very, very hard.
Simon is a shit. I’m not saying this to excuse my son. My son is also a shit. But Simon was the shit that blocked the toilet, if you’ll pardon my saying so. Naturally he assumes he isn’t. Most people assume they aren’t shits. It’s just good business. That’s what it amounts to. Business is good. Good is business it is
I think he hits her sometimes, but she always says … when it’s good, it’s really good, and when it’s bad, he always says sorry afterwards and that’s how she knows he loves her. I always thought I’d tell her to run away. It’s a very easy thing to say, much easier than anything that matters—but I never mustered the courage.
When my daughter died I spent so long trying to make it my fault, because if it was my fault it wasn’t just luck. It was the action of man, it was fate, it was God,
If you call him terrible you have to ask yourself why, you have to blame yourself and no one wants to do that. It’s the hardest thing in the world to say ‘I am a bad mother, and he is a bad father,’ it is impossible, it is devastating it is … because if I am a bad mother then I am … there is nothing worse.
And she said, “My brother had depression, he had depression and we all told him to get over it, we told him to just try and see the good side of things I mean, the good side it was just …”
“You ask people, when they tell you something terrible, you ask them ‘Are you okay?’ Of course they’re not fucking okay but what else are you meant to say. ‘Oh you must be feeling shit you must be so shit you must be …’”
The Hanged Man is the crossroads, is suspension, a choice that holds you back or will send you forward, a moment where all things stand on the edge.
Sometimes I catch myself making stories from the things that happened in my life, making stories of who I will be, and in these stories I’m always the hero or the villain because that way I made a choice, I made a choice and I chose to be here and there wasn’t ever anything which I couldn’t control, there wasn’t a part of me that is …”
“Do you regret?” she asked. “Do you look back, do you look at—when you think about the time you’ve had and the things—do you regret? Is that what you feel?” Theo thought about it. “I think I would,” he said at last. “If there wasn’t something more important to do.”
“Half the people we ask don’t even know if the queen is real, they can’t imagine it, anything changing. But the idea makes them feel better. That maybe they can do this really small thing, like this up yours to the world and maybe it’ll make a difference, maybe they count.
Rob was reading this book, so I jumped in to start reading it, too. In it, Kelly posits twelve inevitable (hence the title) technological forces / trends / changes that will shape our future. He gives them odd names, so that they are all gerunds:
Becoming: everything's upgrading, so we'll always forever be newbies
Cognifying: I suspect a made up word, basically AI everywhere, even dumb ai
Flowing: everything is real-time and instant access becomes more instanter (yes, I did make up that word)
Screening: everything becomes a screen, hate this idea
Accessing: no one owns much, so the corps own the big stuff, we just rent
Sharing: no one owns much, so the corps own the big stuff, we just rent, and share it
Filtering: everything is curated, unfortunately, likely by the AI
Remixing: everyone steals from everyone else and makes a meme out of it, or at least makes things better, pretty much humankind forever
Interacting: AR / VR
Tracking: total surveillance nominally "for the benefit of citizens and consumers" but in reality to an authoritarian state
I think Kelly started reaching on these, but there's also:
Questioning: the idea that good questions are far more valuable than good answers (except that too many people don't question, don't think)
Beginning: going global
There were parts of the book that I really wanted to scream NO NO NO at. Except Kelly isn't saying "here's what I propose," he's saying, "here's what I see." Screaming "No!" at a wall of water doesn't stop the flood, building a seawall stops the worst of it. Which might have been a reason for writing and reading this book.
Worth reading. Maybe reading twice.
Our greatest invention in the past 200 years was not a particular gadget or tool but the invention of the scientific process itself.
Get the ongoing process right and it will keep generating ongoing benefits. In our new era, processes trump products.
You may not want to upgrade, but you must because everyone else is. It’s an upgrade arms race. I used to upgrade my gear begrudgingly (why upgrade if it still works?) and at the last possible moment. You know how it goes: Upgrade this and suddenly you need to upgrade that, which triggers upgrades everywhere. I would put it off for years because I had the experiences of one “tiny” upgrade of a minor part disrupting my entire working life.
[D]elaying upgrading is even more disruptive. If you neglect ongoing minor upgrades, the change backs up so much that the eventual big upgrade reaches traumatic proportions.
I can confirm this statement.
Technological life in the future will be a series of endless upgrades.
No matter how long you have been using a tool, endless upgrades make you into a newbie—the new user often seen as clueless. In this era of “becoming,” everyone becomes a newbie. Worse, we will be newbies forever. That should keep us humble. That bears repeating. All of us—every one of us—will be endless newbies in the future simply trying to keep up.
Second, because the new technology requires endless upgrades, you will remain in the newbie state. Third, because the cycle of obsolescence is accelerating (the average lifespan of a phone app is a mere 30 days!), you won’t have time to master anything before it is displaced, so you will remain in the newbie mode forever. Endless Newbie is the new default for everyone, no matter your age or experience.
We keep inventing new things that make new longings, new holes that must be filled. Some people are furious that our hearts are pierced this way by the things we make. They see this ever-neediness as a debasement, a lowering of human nobility, the source of our continual discontentment.
This discontent is the trigger for our ingenuity and growth. We cannot expand our self, and our collective self, without making holes in our heart.
A world without discomfort is utopia. But it is also stagnant.
None of us have to worry about these utopia paradoxes, because utopias never work. Every utopian scenario contains self-corrupting flaws.
The flaw in most dystopian narratives is that they are not sustainable. Shutting down civilization is actually hard.
Nature finds away. Especially when said nature contains people.
The problems of today were caused by yesterday’s technological successes, and the technological solutions to today’s problems will cause the problems of tomorrow.
The problem with constant becoming (especially in a protopian crawl) is that unceasing change can blind us to its incremental changes. In constant motion we no longer notice the motion.
The disruption ABC could not imagine was that this “internet stuff” enabled the formerly dismissed passive consumers to become active creators.
The total number of web pages, including those that are dynamically created upon request, exceeds 60 trillion. That’s almost 10,000 pages per person alive.
What we all failed to see was how much of this brave new online world would be manufactured by users, not big institutions.
The audience was a confirmed collective couch potato, as the ABC honchos assumed. Everyone knew writing and reading were dead; music was too much trouble to make when you could sit back and listen; video production was simply out of reach of amateurs in terms of cost and expertise.
One study a few years ago found that only 40 percent of the web is commercially manufactured. The rest is fueled by duty or passion.
In fact, the business plans of the next 10,000 startups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI. Find something that can be made better by adding online smartness to it.
The list of Xs is endless. The more unlikely the field, the more powerful adding AI will be.
When you type “Easter Bunny” into the image search bar and then click on the most Easter Bunny–looking image, you are teaching the AI what an Easter Bunny looks like.
My prediction: By 2026, Google’s main product will not be search but AI.
Cloud computing empowers the law of increasing returns, sometimes called the network effect, which holds that the value of a network increases much faster as it grows bigger. The bigger the network, the more attractive it is to new users, which makes it even bigger and thus more attractive, and so on. A cloud that serves AI will obey the same law. The more people who use an AI, the smarter it gets.
As a result, our AI future is likely to be ruled by an oligarchy of two or three large, general-purpose cloud-based commercial intelligences.
Because of a quirk in our evolutionary history, we are cruising as the only self-conscious species on our planet, leaving us with the incorrect idea that human intelligence is singular.
One of the advantages of having AIs drive our cars is that they won’t drive like humans, with our easily distracted minds.
Imagine we land on an alien planet. How would we measure the level of the intelligences we encounter there? This is an extremely difficult question because we have no real definition of our own intelligence, in part because until now we didn’t need one.
Our most important mechanical inventions are not machines that do what humans do better, but machines that can do things we can’t do at all. Our most important thinking machines will not be machines that can think what we think faster, better, but those that think what we can’t think.
Today, many scientific discoveries require hundreds of human minds to solve, but in the near future there may be classes of problems so deep that they require hundreds of different species of minds to solve. This will take us to a cultural edge because it won’t be easy to accept the answers from an alien intelligence. We already see that reluctance in our difficulty in approving mathematical proofs done by computer.
We’ll spend the next three decades—indeed, perhaps the next century—in a permanent identity crisis, continually asking ourselves what humans are good for. If we aren’t unique toolmakers, or artists, or moral ethicists, then what, if anything, makes us special?
We aren’t giving “good jobs” to robots. Most of the time we are giving them jobs we could never do. Without them, these jobs would remain undone.
It is a safe bet that the highest-earning professions in the year 2050 will depend on automations and machines that have not been invented yet. That is, we can’t see these jobs from here, because we can’t yet see the machines and technologies that will make them possible. Robots create jobs that we did not even know we wanted done.
The one thing humans can do that robots can’t (at least for a long while) is to decide what it is that humans want to do. This is not a trivial semantic trick; our desires are inspired by our previous inventions, making this a circular question.
This is not a race against the machines. If we race against them, we lose. This is a race with the machines.
It is inevitable. Let the robots take our jobs, and let them help us dream up new work that matters.
We can’t stop massive indiscriminate copying. Not only would that sabotage the engine of wealth if we could, but it would halt the internet itself.
The initial age of computing borrowed from the industrial age. As Marshall McLuhan observed, the first version of a new medium imitates the medium it replaces. The first commercial computers employed the metaphor of the office.
Then, in the second age, along came the web, and very quickly we expected everything the same day.
Our cycle time jumped from batch mode to daily mode. This was a big deal.
Now in the third age, we’ve moved from daily mode to real time.
In predigital days I bought printed books long before I intended to read them. If I spied an enticing book in a bookstore, I bought it.
Over the years, I have bought Kris a number of baseball-related books. Some have been peripherally baseball related, sorta like the movie For the Love of the Game is a baseball movie (for the record, it is not, it is a romance movie with baseball elements, it is not a baseball movie). Some were definitely baseball related.
This one, however, is the first baseball book Kris recommended back to me.
That's right, I bought baseball books for him, but hadn't actually read them.
So, on his recommendation, I read this one.
I didn't know Ankiel's story. In a few sentences: he was a baseball phenomenon, likely to be better than Sandy Koufax, who, depending on how your stats rank your pitchers, is considered the greatest pitcher of all time. Then he threw a wild pitch that got into his head, and he couldn't get it out. He tried, he failed, he left baseball, he came back a hitter and an outfielder instead. He had a good career.
This book is his autobiography of that career. Many parts of the book read like the inner dialog of a person talking with himself, trying to psych himself up, convince himself that he can do this next thing, that the last thing wasn't so bad.
A result of the style of inner chatter writing and not knowing Ankiel's story is that I was really confused in the first two chapters. of the book. By chapter five, Ankiel had written enough of his story that I understood the why of this book, and was engrossed in the story.
I really enjoyed this book. If you like biographies, baseball, or stories about the hero's journey, this I strongly recommend this book. It isn't one where the hero triumphs, but it is a tale of continuing to do the work, to try, to succeed in a different way, and, in the end, to accept that the life you have isn't the one you wanted, but it can still be a good one.
I would stand behind him when he needed a push, before him when he needed a shield, beside him when he did not.
Denise, my mom, wished she’d had the sense to leave Richard. Right then. The bruises generally healed while my father was away.
I understand this wish.
She couldn’t shake the notion that a boy should have a father nearby. She couldn’t not believe in having a family, even if it were all fouled up and volatile and hurtful.
Another problem was that Dad was a bully, and Mom, because she so wanted to believe the nightmare would end and didn’t want to be threatened again and also didn’t want to lie in a puddle of her own blood on the kitchen floor, was afraid. She had nowhere to go.
I was too small, and then I was too afraid, and even when I grew up there remained the notion that to challenge one’s father was to call out the whole universe into the middle of the street to decide who was the better man. And how long would that have lasted? A punch or two? And what would that have cost my mother in bruises?
An acquaintance of mine has this deep-seated belief that victims can alway speak, that they can always walk away or continue to fight. He never quite understands that sometimes the victim cannot do those things, because the victim understands the consequences of those actions can sometimes be worse than the abuse. My acquaintance does not understand that.a
My mother didn’t deserve the life she got, and I would not — could not — choose the same. I was going to chase something better. I was going to let myself dream and go after that.
Though I’d worn a facsimile of the uniform briefly the fall before, the first day in a real clubhouse — a spring training clubhouse, but still, surrounded by real major leaguers — buttoning that bright jersey and curling the brim of that new cap felt meaningful.
"... curling the brim ..." Hee!
The way to nine months of every single day was an hour at a time, a minute at a time even. Try not to look back. Definitely do not look forward, because the destination is tiny in the distance, and to chase that would be a reasonable path to exhaustion.
No, just hit the next mark in the routine. Do that, and when that is done the next mark will appear. Hit them all, and at the end of the day you’re fed and rested and healthy and strong and clear-headed and confident.
Miss one, then another, and that day gets wobbly, and the next is too full trying to cover for the previous one, and the next is messier, and this is how sore elbows and bad Aprils and doubt and stomachaches are born.
Your brain quit on you. Unless, and this was something to think about, your brain knew best, and it really was protecting you. You don’t want to throw this pitch, it’s not going to end well, so I won’t let you throw it.
It’s a spark of fear, of humiliation, of regret before the fact.
“The yips,” he said, “can be explained in both psychological and neuromuscular terms, and it’s extremely complicated. It’s very difficult to treat and very difficult to understand.… What it boils down to, a mistake is made, ultimate trust is eroded, pressure interferes with the lack of trust, and that compounds the problem. Now there’s anxiety, and a vicious cycle ensues.”
Along come the obsessive thoughts, Dr. Oakley said, the failure, the pursuit of perfection now fouled by anxiety and more failure and more anxiety. “This,” he added, “is a phenomenon on steroids.”
“When a person’s really distressed, they’re overwhelmed by that,” Dr. Oakley said.
“Turn it on its head. Instead of curtailing that moment, bring it on. Experience that. Spend more time with it.
“Most people, of course, don’t want to spend time with it. It’s not a pleasant thing. So what I do, and it goes along with treating anxiety disorders, I try prolonged exposure to it. You actually need more time with it, what my friend Ken Ravizza calls ‘getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.’”
We knew that wouldn’t last forever, but twenty-one years old or even thirty-one years old hardly seemed a time to stop believing in tomorrow. Our arms were strong. Our hearts were set to the rhythms of the game. So we’d run our laps and take the ball and try to throw it past hitters. That was the plan.
In some ways, I told him, the Thing is not unlike cancer. A lot of people who get cancer did nothing to attract it. They are not flawed people. They did not abuse themselves. It’s not as though they stood too close to someone who already had cancer. So they, perhaps, can wonder why they were chosen, but they cannot blame themselves. “It’s not your fault,” I said, repeating a line I heard often.
Here's one of the things our the modern American culture: unfortunate random things happen to people and said people are blamed for being morally bankrupt and deserving the unfortunate random thing.
Which is, in reality, total bullshit.
In Lincoln's day, a clinically depressed person was supported by his community and had a chance to heal. Today, a clinically depressed person is thrown (likely non-effective) drugs and told to walk it off. Depression doesn't work that way. Sames as other random things like the yips. Or some cancers.
And if I couldn’t bury the monster, I would drown it. “Hey,” I said to Darryl Kile, “think you could get me a bottle of vodka?”
It was humiliating. He returned with a full bottle. Something cheap. No judgment. I shrugged. “Do what you gotta do, kid,” he said. “I understand.”
“Do what you have to do, Ank,” Harvey said, just like Darryl had said, maybe amused at the tactic and definitely concerned for the consequences. “Just know it’s not real.”
“Real,” I told Harvey, “and the rest of it is getting a little blurry right now. I have to pitch. This is how I can.”
“Ank,” he said, “it’s still there. You’re not winning. You’re stalling.”
I made three starts. They went like this: 4 1/ 3 innings, 3 hits, 17 walks, 12 wild pitches, a 20.77 ERA. That’s a lot to happen over 13 outs.
In rookie ball, yes. Against a bunch of kids whose best stories were about high school.
I have a couple friends like this.
But I also didn’t have to pretend I was fine when I wasn’t. I could walk around between starts and not feel the weight of the last start and the next start.
“Real” tasted better chased by Bud Lights. It slept better with Xanax. It looked better after one last round and a boozy promise that tomorrow would be happier.
Darryl had been good to me for no reason but to be good to me, and I wanted more than anything in that moment to be his teammate again.
I quit drinking, a special point for Harvey, who for years had seen me hose down bad days with alcohol — and sometimes pills — and celebrate good days with the same.
Harvey’s point, that I must feel the pain in order to treat the pain, was that I’d require clarity to cope with whatever came next. To beat whatever came next. Or, perhaps, to live with whatever came next.
Every ballpark could be a test of past failures and buried memories, some new way to summon the anxiety that was only too eager to return.
But I’d become pretty skilled at keeping the bad thoughts out, holding off what before had felt — and surely was — the inevitable wave of panic.
By then, I was less afraid. Not unafraid,
I liked dawn for the way I remembered it smelling, that being before the accident and the concussion, which jostled just enough in my head to kill my sense of smell. I was thirteen then, being towed on a skateboard behind a go-cart, an event that concluded predictably with a crash, a trip to the emergency room, and my being down one sense.
Dislike mornings. Understand the lack of the sense of smell.
I liked dawn because of its coolness, how it foretold — demanded, even — a fresh start, a ball’s-stuck-in-the-tree do-over.
“Today’s the day,” I said. “I’m going to do it.”
“OK, Ank. You go do it. We’ll talk later. You good?”
Ballplayers didn’t walk away. They were shoved, forcibly removed from the premises at the end of a cattle prod, railing against the injustices of age and declining skills and the idiots who decided who was too old and unskilled.
I. Can’t. Do. It. Anymore. Every word a hammer strike, loud and final. Each report echoing in my head as my old life vanished, my old dreams with it, dying of self-inflicted chaos.
I’d invited him out of obligation. I sat in a dark bus out of obligation. Those years were hard on him too, he said, and I listened out of obligation, for what I didn’t know. Maybe I was still hoping I was wrong about him, the evidence notwithstanding.
Obligation can be an ugly thing.
In this case, Ankiel tells it as this being a gift to his future wife, to try one more time. He tried, it didn't work out. Kudos to him for trying.
I don’t miss him. I miss the notion of a father, though.
[W]hen I rose to the top step to say thank you to those who were kind enough to remember me, I felt no pain. What I felt was strength. Power. Energy. The game was good again. And I was good at it again. My heart was smiling. And I wanted everyone to see.
"Yes, a very tough set of circumstances growing up, but not making excuses, not being a bum on the street, and here he is a father of two, so I love him. I just will never quit hoping that he had a good quality of life.’”
What happens to all of us. How a grown man who has performed a single act his entire life, an act that is so simple or has become so simple, finds that it becomes not simple and, beyond that, in a lot of ways, incapacitating.
[Harvey]’d tell me it wasn’t my fault. I was not responsible for who — more precisely, what — my father was, or what he’d done to my mother and me, or what I should have done about it.
What happened happened. Now what?
I’ve told my friends, “You ever find me hanging from the garage rafters, I was murdered.”
Harvey showed me how, sometimes simply by asking, “OK, what the fuck you gonna do about it?” Emphasis on the profanity, hard like that, as if to say, It’s a big-boy world out there, Ank, and bad stuff happens, and then you decide: I’m in or I’m out.
It’s what they called the guy who knew too well the doubts swimming in Domenick’s heart and head. Where they’d send him. How they’d probably never leave. But you fight. You find a way through it or around it. You ask for help. They send me in. And we go to breakfast.
We start there. So very few people actually got it. Fewer still knew how to help. And there was only one Harvey. We didn’t slay the monster together, but we stood shoulder to shoulder and tried. Then we bandaged up and got on our feet and tried again. Some days, we had our pick of monsters.
How many I’d told there was no trick to beating this thing, and hell, there might be no beating it at all, but there was no shame in trying. Trying was the only way to find out. Trying required courage. Trying meant allowing for failure. Trying was hard and lonely. So yeah, I recommended trying. I thought about Harvey. What would Harvey say? “Go on, Ank, what the fuck”? Or, maybe, “What’s the point, Ank? What do you have left to prove? Don’t do it for the money. Don’t do it for any reason except that you want to.”
This is book 6 of the Peter Grant series.
I really enjoyed this book. I'm unsure why I enjoyed this one more than the others, and I enjoyed the others. Maybe the plot was more action, less internal thinking? Unsure.
This one has Peter tracking down the drugs involved in the death of a teen in an expensive, and empty, unit of One Hyde Park. A child of a river is involved, which said river would prefer not disclosed (doesn't happen). We also learn of another pocket of leftover magic pracitioners, passed down from mother to daughter for generations.
And there's search of the Third Principia, Newton's tome on magic. Oh, and the introduction of Guleed, a female Muslim cop who does just fine.
I will probably read the book again in a few years, and realize why I like this one more than the others. In the meantime, this is a "if you're reading the series, keep reading, this is a fun one."
I recommend the series in general. Start with Midnight Riot.
I waited about a minute, just so I could claim I’d waited five, and then headed back up the garden.
Olivia glanced at the picture, then sideways at her mother, and I saw her make the wrong decision. But, before I could say anything, she opened her mouth and stuck her future in it.
Guleed always knew how to keep her mouth shut, and had this mad way of just fading into the background whenever she wanted to. Well, we all have our ways of dealing with difficulties — mine is to ask stupid questions.
Because, for police officers, “close relative” frequently rhymes with “prime suspect,”
He spoke with that deliberately toned down posh accent that, before they allowed regional dialects on the radio, used to be known as BBC standard.
Did not know.
Useful or not, it still had to be written up because a) empirically speaking a negative result is still a result, b) someone cleverer than you might make a connection you missed and c) in the event of a case review it’s sensible to at least look like you’re being competent.
Yay, scientific method!
That’s the trouble with community policing — strangely, people start expecting you to be part of the community.
Melanie who was one of those round perky people who give the impression that it’s only a great effort of will stopping them from bouncing around the room.
Beverley said that she found that people stuck the first vaguely appropriate label on, whether it fit the facts or not.
“I know it’s hard, Peter,” she’d said. “But if you could contain your erudition and ready wit for just a little while we’d be most grateful.”
“Am I allowed to be cheeky?” I’d asked.
“No you’re fucking not,” said Seawoll.
That, as they say, is fighting talk. But, as Nightingale once told me during boxing practice, the best blow is the one your opponent doesn’t even notice until he keels over.
The word “bollocks” is one of the most beautiful and flexible in the English language. It can be used to express emotional states ranging from ecstatic surprise to weary resignation in the face of inevitable disaster.
Either the management were paying them way over the odds, or their HR department had been outsourced to Stepford, Connecticut.
I love references like these.
I'm pretty sure I've missed over half of them, too.
Generally when you’re interviewing somebody and they seem remarkably calm about one crime, it’s because they’re relieved you haven’t found out about something else.
You see, even the clever ones can’t resist being clever and the next move, if you want them to stay being clever, is to play dumb.
“Women carried on “practicing”,” said Lady Helena, “just as they carried on composing, painting and all the other professions from which history has erased them. Mother taught daughter, who passed on the skills through the generations — just as women have always had to do."
The media always calls this sort of thing senseless, but the motive made sense — it was just stupid, is what it was.
This one was a white woman with slate gray eyes which she narrowed at me when I introduced myself.
Slate gray eyes... hmmmmmm....
“My father was somebody important right up to the day he was nobody at all,” she said. “Power in the material world is fleeting.”
So, back to Mayfair where the constant flow of money keeps the streets clean and free of unsightly poor people.
This was off the books — I was not here, this never happened — the spice must flow.
“La majestueuse égalité des lois, qui interdit au riche comme au pauvre de coucher sous les ponts, de mendier dans les rues et de voler du pain,” said Nightingale later when we were preparing our case notes.
Which is French for “Them that has, gets.”
Which was totally not my fault, I might add, although I probably shouldn’t have used the word Krynoid in my official report.
Though, I have to admit the Doctor Who reference was entertaining in and of itself to me, based on my ongoing and lifelong fascination with crinoids.
Every spare centimeter of the wall space had been covered with shelves, all of which were stuffed with books.
The previous summer I’d done the exact same thing while being chased by an invisible unicorn — so at least I had form.
How not to be seen, lesson number one: Don’t stand up.
Because the alternative is you, I wanted to shout back. But the second lesson on how not to be seen is: Don’t answer back.
Sometimes courage is easy, and sometimes you have to scream at your own body to act in its own bloody best interest, and sometimes it refuses the call altogether. And the pisser is that you never know which one it’s going to be until you try.
Mercifully it must have been quite late on because it wasn’t the featureless box so favored by the American modernists, and the architect had actually made an attempt to fit it in with the rest of street.
“But we are not always the sons our fathers dream of — as you should know.” As I did know, and all the things sons do to make their fathers proud until you learn to choose your own life for your own reasons.
Hyde Park Corner is what happens when a bunch of urban planners take one look at the grinding circle of gridlock that surrounds the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and think — that’s what we want for our town.
It was full night by the time I crossed the street and the Portland stone of the Arch was bleached white by spotlights, the bronze on top lit up in blue.
Once more into the breach, I thought.
“If it’s all the same to you, sir, I think I’m going to have to see this through,” she said. “Inshallah.” As God wills it.
“Good show,” said Nightingale.
This is it, I thought. We’re all going to die.
“When you’re married you get used to each other — you really only see the person you expect to see.”
I picked up this book not because I was excited about the new series that Connelly (of Harry Bosch writing fame) was writing, but rather because book two of this series is a Harry Bosch book, and it made sense to read book one before reading book two.
My prediction before reading the book, once I realized the main character, Renee Ballard is a cop, was "Okay, murder, tunnels, and bad cops did it." I was not disappointed, but there was only two of those three.
The book follows a week or so of Ballard's time in the night shift of being a cop in the Hollywood Police Department. A large amount of Los Angeles, ala Bosch, which I enjoyed.
A couple of the timelines just didn't work for me. Some events happened way too fast, people do not heal as fast as they do in this book. Bureaucracy does not move as fast as they do in this book. Recovery from traumatic events does not occur as fast as it does in this book. The compressed timeline pulled me out of the book.
Which is fine. I enjoyed the book. I'm looking forward to the next Bosch book, which is out, but has a 3 month wait at the library. If you're a Bosch fan, this is a good one to read (the Bosch step-brother ones, eh, less so).
Ballard had been in the Dancers and knew the club got its name from a club in the great L.A. novel The Long Goodbye. She also knew it had a whole menu of specialty drinks with L.A. literary titles, like the Black Dahlia, Blonde Lightning, and Indigo Slam.
Well, time to look up more books...
The only problem was that outside of his cases his moral compass didn’t always point true north. He made choices based on political and bureaucratic expediency, not right and wrong.
Some of the notes revealed more about the personality of the officer than it did about Ramone.
One wrong input in the search parameters could easily result in a “no records found” response, even if there was a closely matching case somewhere in the data.
Sounds like Machine Learning™ needs to come to law enforcement.
... that would require a warrant and a commitment of time and money from the department’s Commercial Crimes Division that outweighed the importance of the case.
“Somebody who totally fucked me over died today,” she said.
“Then why are you sad?” he asked. “I mean, fuck him. If it was a him.”
“I don’t know. I guess because it means what he did can never be changed. His death makes it permanent.”
“I think I get that.”
There were eight [surf]boards arranged in slots according to size: her life’s collection so far. She never traded in boards. There were too many memories attached to them.
I kinda feel this way about my cars, and regret selling every one.
Most people were trying to get out of L.A. Ballard was trying to get in. She steadily goosed her rented Ford Taurus through heavy rush-hour traffic on the 101 freeway toward downtown.
Okay, when J. K. Rowling writes, she uses a lot of words. This has been happening since book four of the Harry Potter series, and it carried over into this series.
Except, in this book, I didn't feel like it had too many words. So either I've become used to too-many-words, or Rowling's editor managed to convince her to trim the excess with this book.
I enjoyed this book. It isn't a short book, taking most people 11 hours to read, it took me a couple hours less, but that's still a lot of words.
The book starts off pretty much where the last one ended, Robin's wedding, and does a number of flashbacks and fast-forwards to tell the story of that day, week, month. The first part had a number of miscommunications and interfering people and George Costanza awkwardness that I almost stopped reading it. I kept going, and enjoyed the book.
There are a couple mysteries in the book, with the bulk following an unhinged Billy as he deals with memories of childhood violence that may or may not have happened, and a separate investigation of the blackmailing of a government official. I will admit to having spent most of the book trying to figure out what would have been legal six years before, and is no longer legal, and why that would be blackmailable. I suspect this was part of the delight of the mystery.
The Cormoran / Ellacott partnership works well professionally, but both of them long for the other in the book, which leads to a stressed professional relationship. I guess this makes for good tension in a mystery book? Maybe?
Anyway, if you're reading the series, keep going. If you haven't started, start at the first one and make it through the second one. These last two have been fun. Not Harry Potter books 1-3 fun, but adult action-mystery fun.
Matthew had sought to deny her the thing that might save her, the thing for which she had cried in the small hours of the night when everybody else was asleep: the restoration of her self-respect, of the job that had meant everything to her, of the friendship she had not known was one of the prizes of her life until it was torn away from her.
Matthew had lied and kept lying. He had smiled and laughed as she dragged herself through the days before the wedding trying to pretend that she was happy that she had lost a life she had loved. Had she fooled him? Did he believe that she was truly glad her life with Strike was over? If he did, she had married a man who did not know her at all, and if he didn’t…
“You don’t get to make those decisions for me!” she yelled.
“You see,” Robin had continued with the speech she had prepared, “my life is pretty much wall to wall with people who think they know what’s best for me.”
“Well, yes,” said the therapist, in a manner that Robin felt would have been considered condescending beyond the clinic walls, “we’ve discussed — ”
“ — and…” Robin was by nature conciliatory and polite. On the other hand, she had been urged repeatedly by the therapist to speak the unvarnished truth in this dingy little room with the spider plant in its dull green pot and the man-sized tissues on the low pine table. “… and to be honest,” she said, “you feel like just another one of them.”
“We can’t throw it all away, can we?” he had asked her hoarsely from the bed where the doctor had insisted he stay. “All these years?”
His personality filled the room like the first bar of a hit song. Strike knew him from those few words as the kind of man who, in the army, was either outstandingly useful or an insubordinate bastard.
“No,” lied Strike, because he knew what it felt like to have your personal details strewn across the newspapers. It was kindest, if at all credible, to pretend you hadn’t read it all, politest to let people tell their own story.
“De mortuis nil nisi bonum?” asked Strike.
He had wanted to believe her when she had told him how glorious it was to have her flat to herself and her freedom restored, yet lately he had felt tiny spots of displeasure when he had told her he had to work weekends, like the first heavy drops of rain that presage a storm.
There was, after all, little pleasure to compare with that given by a woman who really wanted you, he thought
From a distance of two years, he saw himself trying to hold tight to some part of his past as everything else slipped away.
Strike had learned many tricks and secrets, become adept ferreting in even the darkest corners of the internet, but often the most innocent social media sites held untold wealth, a minor amount of cross-referencing all that was necessary to compile detailed private histories that their careless owners had never meant to share with the world.
In Strike’s experience, those who disdained the use of representation in court were either unbalanced or so arrogant that it came to the same thing.
Robin had dwelled at length on her need to discern where the real Matthew ended and her illusions about him began. “People change in ten years,” the therapist had responded. “Why does it have to be a question of you being mistaken in Matthew? Perhaps it’s simply that you’ve both changed?”
“D’you believe in redemption?”
And sometimes, she knew, the kindness of a stranger, or even a casual acquaintance, could be transformative, something to cling to while those closest to you dragged you under in their efforts to help.
For the first time ever, Robin had sex with Matthew that night purely because she could not face the row that would ensue if she refused.
Only love could have justified the havoc they had lived together, or the many times he had resumed the relationship, even while he knew in his soul that it couldn’t work. Love, to Strike, was pain and grief sought, accepted, endured.
Lorelei’s willingness to accept the casualness of their current arrangement did not stem from a shared sense of disengagement, but from a desperation to keep him on almost any terms.
“People always say that,” he grunted. “It is the money, and it isn’t. Because what is money? Freedom, security, pleasure, a fresh chance…"
“You wanted things I couldn’t give you. Every single fucking time, you hated the poverty.”
“I acted like a spoiled bitch,” she said, “I know I did, then I married Jago and I got all those things I thought I deserved and I want to fucking die.”
“It goes beyond holidays and jewelry, Charlotte. You wanted to break me.” Her expression became rigid, as it so often had before the worst outbursts, the truly horrifying scenes. “You wanted to stop me wanting anything that wasn’t you. That’d be the proof I loved you, if I gave up the army, the agency, Dave Polworth, every-bloody-thing that made me who I am.”
"I gave you the best I had to give, and it was never enough,” he said. “There comes a point where you stop trying to save the person who’s determined to drag you down with them.”
"He came from a background that finds anything that deviates from its own conventions and norms to be suspect, unnatural, even dangerous. He was a rich white Conservative male, Mr. Strike, and he felt the corridors of power were best populated exclusively by rich white Conservative males. He sought, in everything, to restore a status quo he remembered in his youth."
“Yet she stayed with him. Of course, people do stay, even when they’re treated abominably."
"... it will go the way it always goes in the press when it all comes out: it will have been my fault, all of it! Because men’s crimes are always ours in the final analysis, aren’t they, Mr. Strike? Ultimate responsibility always lies with the woman, who should have stopped it, who should have acted, who must have known. Your failings are really our failings, aren’t they? Because the proper role of the woman is carer, and there’s nothing lower in this whole world than a bad mother.”
Life had taught him that a great and powerful love could be felt for the most apparently unworthy people, a circumstance that ought, after all, to give everybody consolation.
“You liked it, you liked me being stuck at home, why can’t you admit it?"
I think marriage is nearly always an unfathomable entity, even to the people inside it, Della Winn had said.
“You can bloody hate someone and still wish they gave a shit about you and hate yourself for wishing it.”
Robin took the tissue and, with one hearty blow of her nose, demolished it.
This is a collection of Harry Dresden short stories, collected into one volume. Usually the stories are part of a science-fiction-fantasy anthology written by many authors, of which a Dresden will be one of many in the book. I used to buy these anthologies for the Dresden story, until I realize if I wait long enough, a compendium of Dresden shorts will be assembled and published, and THAT was what I really wanted.
Though now that I'm using the library more, I could probably borrow the anthologies...
I had read many of these short stories before, mostly in the Big Foot collection. There were, however, a few I hadn't read. I enjoyed the Molly tales, especially the one where she earned her svartalf apartment. Molly's thinking voice, however, while a bit too male, and a lot too Dresden, is still quite enjoyable to read.
The book is a must for any Dresden fan, and would make little sense to anyone else.
And pretty sure I missed a bunch of my highlighted quotes, what, reading on a broken kindle and such.
Carlos squinted his eyes and studied the bartender, as if weighing the value of heeding her words versus the personal pleasure he would take in being contrary. Harry Dresden has had a horrible influence on far too many people, and has much to answer for.
“Knights of the Cross never have any missions they question?” Carlos asked.
“I think they get a different kind of question,” I said. “For Dad, it was always about saving everyone. Not just the victims. He had to try for the monsters, too.”
“Weird,” Carlos said.
“Not so weird,” I said. “Maybe if someone had offered a hand to the monsters, they wouldn’t have become monsters in the first place. You know?”
“Once we get these kids clear, I want to kiss you again.” My tummy did a little happy cartwheel, and my heart sped up to keep it company.
“I haven’t kept track,” I said. “Somewhere between zero and none. Should I have?”
“The more people who know about them and fear them, the more awake and more powerful they become,” he said. “That’s why the people who know about them don’t talk about them much.”
But, again, when casting a wizard as the central character, from a storytelling standpoint all of that power is a liability, not an asset. Protagonists have to be challenged, struggle, and grow, not just mow down everything that gets in their way with their Tenser’s Mystic Inflammable Bulldozer spell.
And yet, this is exactly what Butcher did to Dresden.
I didn’t think I’d had much out on the island, but it’s amazing how many boxes it takes to hold not much.
“The government isn’t the mob, Harry.”
“Aren’t they?” I asked. “Pay them money every year to protect you, and God help you if you don’t.”
I glanced at the clock as I filed out with the rest of the jury. Nine tomorrow morning. That gave me just under sixteen hours to do what wizards do best. I left, and began meddling.
“You want to help guys like this,” Patterson said. “But he doesn’t want to help himself. You know? You can’t save someone who don’t want to be saved.”
“Doesn’t mean we can’t try,” I said. “Where is he?”
“Ehyeh ašer ehyeh,”
“It’s just...” I said. “Killing is such a waste. What I did was necessary. But I’m not sure it was good.”
“Killing rarely is,” he said, “at least in my experience. Could you have done any differently?”
“Maybe?” I said. “I don’t know. With what I knew at the time... I don’t know.”
I really enjoyed this story, told three times in three parts from Dresden's, Maggie's, and Mouse's perspectives.
My instincts frequently roll their eyes at the decisions my brain makes.
That was what haunts did. They followed you, sometimes for days and days, and they stared and their empty eyes made you relive the bad things from your life. If they did it long enough, you’d just wind up in a ball on the ground — and when you got up, you’d have big black eyes and the haunt would be telling you what to do from then on. I thought about telling
He didn’t talk to me in a kid voice, like some grown-ups did. They sound different when they talk to children. My dad sounded like he did when he talked to anyone else.
Learned this one the hard way when I talked to Kim Wasson's girl, Ceili. Don't. Talk. Down. Talk with.
But feeling true isn’t the same as being true. In fact, feelings don’t have very much to do with the truth at all.
Nothing is truly safe in this world — and that being the case, why worry about threats that have not yet appeared?
That might be the saddest part of human heart-stupidity: how much happiness you simply leave aside so that you have enough time to worry.
"Depart this city. Do not come back.”
“Or else?” he asked.
“There is nothing else,” I replied calmly. “You will do these things. The only question is whether you will do them of your own will or if I must teach you how.”
Okay, while Mom and I were walking in Copenhagen (I love that I can say that), I mentioned how delighted I was with the previous Paul Cleave book I had read. She immediately and enthusiastically agreed with my delight, then tried to remember which of his other books she really liked.
Out came Libby and we scrolled through the list at the library, and this was on the list and this was the one she really liked. boom! onto my hold list it went.
I enjoyed the book. There was a small twist at the end, and a couple deux ex machina moments that were somewhat eyerolling, but I enjoyed the book. The timeline of things was completely unrealistic, no kid is going back to school after going from completely blind to revolutionary eye surgery to home in three weeks.
That a kid can go from no sight to depth recognition in moments was also a bit farfetched, too. And not having any infection after the craziness of the surgery bumbling? No.
But, hey, it's fiction. Found out it is Young Adult fiction, which made it fun. I wish I had known it was YA, as I would have approached it differently.
I enjoyed the book. Trust No One is better, but this was still a fun read. If you're a Cleave fan, definitely read it.
That’s the trick to this — keep moving forward fast enough to stop the bad news from catching up.
His dad once said that bad news for everybody else is big news for the media. He would often say, It’s human tragedy that keeps them employed.
"... your father fell from a great height. He would have died instantly. He wouldn’t have felt a thing.”
“Except he would have,” Joshua says. “He would have felt fear all the way down, and the higher he fell from, the longer he got to feel it.”
"You have to plan for how the world is now, not for how it might be. And of course you can hope. We can all hope.”
He is lonely. He is bored. He is sad.
“Because people who don’t like themselves are drawn to the idea of belittling others online.”
Neither of them excelled in school, neither of them went to university, both of them were concerned with current events but never willing to help make change. They didn’t vote, because they didn’t see a point, neither had had a relationship that lasted longer than a few months, and even then those relationships were few and far between.
This describes most other people, does it not?
Did everybody else in Simon’s life think so little of him that they actually believe he did those bad things? Of course, he did do them, but why aren’t people doubting that? They can’t know, not for sure, yet they’re quick to believe the worst.
The lift arrives. The door opens. She steps in and the guy steps in. He smiles at her and presses the button, then stands in one corner while she stands in the other. She wonders when everybody jumped on the unwritten rule that you couldn’t make conversation in a lift. People can chat in all sorts of situations, they’ll say hi as they pass by on the street, they’ll make chitchat buying groceries, or at a bar, or a sports game, or in a queue — but making small talk with a stranger in a lift is committing a cardinal sin...
I was laughing at this one.
I'm the person who stands the wrong way in an elevator so that I can see everyone, and then starts talking.
Hope strung out is still hope, but it feels like hell.
The exercise isn’t completely pointless — those who took and uploaded the pictures will all be charged, and hopefully it will send out a message to others willing to do the same stupid thing. Only she doesn’t think it will. The kind of person who takes a photograph of a dead teenage boy and puts it online isn’t the kind of person who understands how society should work.
Peterson is one of those guys who use their hands a lot when they talk.
Full-body talking. My specialty.
“Dad used to say the world was full of good people willing to do nothing.”
“Your dad is dead,
He tells her how normal it was, and in a way that made it more frightening — how can you find monsters when they can live like anybody?
I really wanted to like this book. I really enjoyed the first one, which made the second one worth reading. If this series were longer than three books, I would call this one the first of two bad books which would cause me to stop reading the series. The book isn't bad bad, but it is merely okay, which would be the first of two consecutive strikes needed for me to stop reading a series.
The book starts nine after the last one ended, with a dead robot left on Earth now working, Americans terrorizing everyone under the guise of "freedom," and our four intrepid heros returning from Esat Ekt. The storyline also folds back to immediately after our four Earth heros landed on Esat Ekt and are not allowed to leave, so we learn their history and why they left when when weren't really allowed to leave.
It's easy to see where Neuval was going with this particular book: he talks about us versus them and repressed populations and people being held against their will, stopped from leaving by a bureaucratic government and power-seeking people. The parallels to modern western culture and its direction are almost punched into the reader's face.
With Kara gone, however, the sass of the conversations are gone, too. Which makes the book less interesting. There isn't discovery and adventure, there's the tedium of life and the mundane. Both of which, sure, exist and are important, but not when I'm reading a young adult science fiction books about aliens and giant robots and the like.
And really, if it is so easy to recreate a person, memories, soul and all, why wasn't Kara xeroxed in this way and updated regularly?
If you're reading the series, read the book, finish the series. If you're not reading the series yet, read the first book at stop.
— One more for the good guys. Spreading freedom, one city at a time.
— I’m fairly certain they had freedom before.
— Well, now they have more.
I don’t care what happens to my “soul.” I don’t care if there’s still a me, but I really want for there to be a you. The world makes more sense if there’s a you.
Believe me, my standards as a single parent are about as low as they can be. She didn’t come with a manual, but if there is one, I’m pretty sure there’s a bit in it about not stranding your child on another planet, dying in front of her, letting her deal with your body.
What was that thing Wittgenstein said? Something about a man imprisoned in an unlocked room because it doesn’t occur to him to pull instead of pushing on the door.
Yep, looked up Wittgenstein.
— We can learn so much from these people, use the time we have to understand how their society works.
— What’s the point if we can’t tell anyone?
— Do you really mean that, Vincent? That doesn’t sound like you at all.
I wish they’d make the best of whatever time we have here. We all see the same things, but I wish they could see them as I do. I feel like I’m enjoying a movie no one else in the room is paying attention to.
You don’t wanna think about bad shit, so you pretend it doesn’t exist? Reality doesn’t give a crap whether you pay attention to it or not. It’s still there.
— Goddammit! Listen to what I’m saying! I don’t wanna be saved! I don’t want you to do anything because I don’t want their stupid cure.
— I’m not gonna let you die.
— I don’t need your permission, son. I’m a general. I’m tired of this place. I’m tired, period. I’m seventy-one years old. I’m allowed.
— What? You think I’m sorry to go? You think I have a bucket list I want to get through after all this?
— You don’t want to go home?
My hatred of "gonna" and "wanna" burns with the heat of a thousand suns.
There are ZERO WAYS a General of the Armed Forces of The F'ing Planet Earth is going to say, "gonna" and "wanna" instead of "going to" and "want to."
This was as bad as a Puero Rican girl raised by a South American general, a French Canadian scientist, and an American woman sounding like she is a Jewish girl from the Bronx, as the audio book does.
Couldn't listen to that shit.
— I’m sorry, sir.
— Sorry for what? Are you apologizing to me because you can’t cure cancer? Or because you can’t make the world the way I want it to be? Either way, never be sorry about things you have no control over. You’ll just give yourself ulcers.
How (classically) Stoic.
These people can’t even do racist right. I hate this world. People are small. They’re ignorant, and they’re happy to stay that way. They make an effort to. They’ll spend time and energy finding ways not to learn things just to feel comfortable with their beliefs.
Oh, is she back in the US?
Anyone who can beat up a cook can get out! But they’re not. They’re all staying here. Basically, they don’t need the fence or the guards. They can just tell people to stay, and they stay. Stay! There, good boy!
I asked him why people complained about politics all the time but did absolutely nothing about it. I couldn’t understand why people keep voting for the very people they loathe. They’ll protest a war, but the everyday stuff, small injustices, they just let them slide. Friends making a fortune off government contracts, paying a hundred dollars for a pencil, that type of thing, people complain about it, everyone does, but they won’t do a thing. I remember how floored I was when he told me that was a good thing, how we need a certain level of cynicism for society to function properly. If people thought they had real power to change things, if they truly believed in democracy, everyone would take to the streets, advocate, militate for everything. It happens from time to time.
If you see something wrong with the world, fix it. Fight. Resist. Don’t use cardboard.
Part Three: Road to Damascus
— What is it they say? No news is good news?
— Well, they do say that, but it’s bullshit. No news is just the absence of news.
— I wouldn’t know why I was doing it. I don’t see the point.
— Knowledge is the point. Why else do we do anything?
"On the planet? You can’t defeat terrorism on a whole planet, it’s not an army you can crush. That’s why it’s called terrorism. There’d always be one person left somewhere to blow up more things."
— I had a feeling you’d go back to old habits right away.
— Am I that predictable?
— Well, yes. Everyone is. I’d do the same thing. Old shoes, old shirt, a familiar meal. For a moment, the world makes sense again.
"You’re being too hard on people, just like you can be too hard on yourself. People got scared. Rightly so! What happened here nine years ago wasn’t anyone’s fault. It just happened. People have the right to be emotional, and irrational, from time to time."
Just not at the level of Cheetoh, btw.
"We’ve lost our collective mind! Scientists are ignoring their own findings. People are denying even the most basic scientific facts because it makes them feel better about hurting each other. Do you realize how horrifying that is? We’re talking about human beings making a conscious effort, going out of their way, to be ignorant. Willfully stupid. They’re proud of it. They take pride in idiocy. There’s not even an attempt to rationalize things anymore."
Oh, hey, the commentary isn't opaque AT ALL here.
You can’t expect babies to do the things adults do. You can’t expect anyone to do things they can’t do. If you ask me to lift five hundred pounds, I can’t. It doesn’t matter how much I want to, how much conviction I put into it. It’s just not something I can do.
— You’re right.
— I know I’m right! I wouldn’t say things if I thought they were wrong!
Our late friend once told me: “redefine alterity and you can erase boundaries.”
If you’re using bombs instead of words, that means you’re banking on people giving you what you want out of fear instead of reason. That’s never a good sign.
— Alex, are you ready for this?
— No. — Good. Overconfidence is bad.
— Then I’m doing great.
— That makes two of us.
This is another Caltech Bookclub read, I started reading it way behind the rest of the readers, so spent much of today reading to catch up. Aaaaaaaaaand, finished it in a day. I do like reading while treadmill walking.
Butler grew up in Pasadena, which is the connection to Caltech for the book club. Previous books were about Caltech scientists or Caltech research or by Techers. This one has a lot of Pasadena in it. It was neat to know where she was describing, even if the Pasadena and Altadena even I knew are as gone as hers.
Butler is known as a science-fiction author. While this book has unexplained time travel as a plot mechanism, no time is spent exploring the phenomenon, making this book not really science fiction in my categorization. It is, however, a seriously good commentary on human nature.
The main character, Dana, is transported back to early 1800s American South. As Dana is black, we read about the atrocities of slavery, as told from a modern person transported back to the brutality of the era. We see how we normalize horrible behaviours, often to survive. We see how we assume power, even when we are one of the powerless. We see how we don't see our own privilege, how seeing another's view is difficult, it not impossible.
I think what's lingering with me most, however, is the slow descent into acceptance that Butler weaves into the story. It reminds me a great deal what Mistakes We Made (but not by me) discusses about human nature: we are all frogs in the pot about to boil.
I appreciated the technological contrast between today and forty years ago in the difficulties that the characters experienced. The story told from 2018 would have been much different in the details. I suspect Dana of 2018 would not have lasted as long as Dana of 1976 did.
I've read other books by Butler, on the strong recommendation from Claire and Susan. So far, all of them have been worth reading. I strongly recommend this book, and reading it for the commentary on human nature.
There were free blacks. You could pose as one of them.”
“Free blacks had papers to prove they were free.”
“You could have papers too. We could forge something …”
“If we knew what to forge. I mean, a certificate of freedom is what we need, but I don’t know what they looked like. I’ve read about them, but I’ve never seen one.”
Here's an example of where 2018 Dana could Internet Search™ for an image of freedom papers, and be able to create copies.
Yet, how much would they really matter for a single black woman in the South? Tear them up and she's in the same place as she was without them.
“I’m even crazier than you,” he said. “After all I’m older than you. Old enough to recognize failure and stop dreaming, so I’m told.”
After all, how accepting would I be if I met a man who claimed to be from eighteen nineteen—or two thousand nineteen, for that matter.
The timing of this cracked me up. 2019! A month away!
“None of them say eighteen-anything either,” said Kevin. “But here.” He picked out a bicentennial quarter and handed it to Rufus.
“Seventeen seventy-six, nineteen seventy-six,” the boy read. “Two dates.”
I so love those quarters.
If you have one, send it to me!
I was the worst possible guardian for him—a black to watch over him in a society that considered blacks subhuman, a woman to watch over him in a society that considered women perennial children.
"Even here, not all children let themselves be molded into what their parents want them to be."
“Wait a minute,” he said. “I’m not minimizing the wrong that’s being done here. I just …”
“Yes you are. You don’t mean to be, but you are.”
White people. Privilege (such an overused, abused term these days). Explaining away the horrible actions of others as, "not that bad."
“The ease seemed so frightening,” I said. “Now I see why.”
“The ease. Us, the children … I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.”
Down the slippery slope.
Or if I had to stay here, why couldn’t I just turn these two kids away, turn off my conscience, and be a coward, safe and comfortable?
When that time came, I could walk away from the agency not owing anybody.
My memory of my aunt and uncle told me that even people who loved me could demand more of me than I could give—and expect their demands to be met simply because I owed them.
The pain was a friend. Pain had never been a friend to me before, but now it kept me still.
The fire flared up and swallowed the dry paper, and I found my thoughts shifting to Nazi book burnings. Repressive societies always seemed to understand the danger of “wrong” ideas.
“What’s it going to get them?”
“It’ll get them the cowhide if they don’t,” she snapped. “I ain’t goin’ to take the blame for what they don’t do. Are you?”
“Well, no, but …”
“I work. You work. Don’t need somebody behind us all the time to make us work.”
The discussion was about why the slaves continue to work, and why some are more motivated that others to work.
“Don’t want to hear no more,” she repeated softly. “Things ain’t bad here. I can get along.” She had done the safe thing—had accepted a life of slavery because she was afraid.
Ignorant as I knew I was, I trusted myself more than I trusted her.
Don't we all.
Gotten possession of the woman without having to bother with her husband. Now, somehow, Alice would have to accept not only the loss of her husband, but her own enslavement. Rufus had caused her trouble, and now he had been rewarded for it. It made no sense. No matter how kindly he treated her now that he had destroyed her, it made no sense.
“My man used to. He’d tell me I was the only one he cared about. Then, next thing I knew, he’d say I was looking at some other man, and he’d go to hittin’.”
I went, annoyed, but silent. I thought he could have given me a decent estimate if he had wanted to. But it didn’t really matter. Kevin would receive the letter and he could come to get me. I couldn’t really doubt that Rufus had sent it. He didn’t want to lose my good will anymore than I wanted to lose his. And this was such a small thing.
Wow, doesn't this feel like the Princess Bride?
“Mama said she’d rather be dead than be a slave,” she said.
“Better to stay alive,” I said. “At least while there’s a chance to get free.”
I went out to the laundry yard to help Tess. I had come to almost welcome the hard work. It kept me from thinking.
Better than drinking, maybe.
"All I want you to do is fix it so I don’t have to beat her. You’re no friend of hers if you won’t do that much!"
This is totally the thinking of abusers blaming the victims, "You made me do it, you made me beat the holy hell out of you." Um... no.
When she hurt, she struck out to hurt others. But she had been hurting less as the days passed, and striking out less.
She went to him. She adjusted, became a quieter more subdued person. She didn’t kill, but she seemed to die a little.
Would I really try again? Could I? I moved, twisted myself somehow, from my stomach onto my side. I tried to get away from my thoughts, but they still came. See how easily slaves are made? they said.
But he wanted me around—someone to talk to, someone who would listen to him and care what he said, care about him. And I did. However little sense it made, I cared. I must have. I kept forgiving him for things.
I wondered whether he had been able to write during the five years, or rather, whether he had been able to publish. I was sure he had been writing. I couldn’t imagine either of us going for five years without writing. Maybe he’d kept a journal or something.
In other words, he was sorry. He was always sorry. He would have been amazed, uncomprehending if I refused to forgive him. I remembered suddenly the way he used to talk to his mother. If he couldn’t get what he wanted from her gently, he stopped being gentle. Why not? She always forgave him.
She decided to teach me to sew. I had an old Singer at home and I could sew well enough with it to take care of my needs and Kevin’s. But I thought sewing by hand, especially sewing for “pleasure” was slow torture.
Before the era of disposable clothing.
He just didn’t like working alone. Actually, he didn’t like working at all. But if he had to do it, he wanted company.
Sounds like a number of people I know.
“He’ll never let any of us go,” she said. “The more you give him, the more he wants.”
Sometimes I wrote things because I couldn’t say them, couldn’t sort out my feelings about them, couldn’t keep them bottled up inside me. It was a kind of writing I always destroyed afterward. It was for no one else.
He lay with his head on my shoulder, his left arm around me, his right hand still holding my hand, and slowly, I realized how easy it would be for me to continue to be still and forgive him even this.
So easy, in spite of all my talk.
From the reader's guide at the end of the book:
5. “I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.” Dana says this to Kevin when they have returned to the present and are discussing their experiences in the antebellum South. Do we also in the twenty-first century still have conditioned responses to slavery?
I added this book to my reading list some time after reading a ranking of Chandler's Marlowe books in order of "good," and this one wasn't first, but it is the first book of the series.
After checking this book out from the library, I found a nicely bound hardcover in a bookstore. Instead of reading the library version, I've been reading the paper version. Turns out, I've seen the movie, and recall much of it. The first 25% of the book matches the film well. We'll see if it stays that way, I'll be watching the movie again shortly.
I really enjoyed this book. Helps that I've lived in Los Angeles. While my residency was not in the late thirties, the world that Chandler describes is vivid enough, and based on real enough places, that I could visualize the story very well.
Unsurprisingly, most of the supporting characters are one-dimensional, Silver-Wig loves her man, until she realizes he's a killer, for example. Mars is a tough guy, willing to do most things for a dollar, and smart enough to have someone else do those things.
Marlowe, however, has more character. He's the hero of the story, we follow him around, we see more of his motivations, so unsurprisingly we understand him better. Seems reasonable that someone who wants to solve puzzles and understands a bit about human character would become a private investigator.
Unrelated, there is a lot of "kissing people you just met" in this book, but no actual sex. I didn't realize that people kissed so much in Los Angeles. I clearly did L.A. wrong.
I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed all the one-line and otherwise short zingers, and the snappy dialog. I'll likely continue reading the series.
"If I sound a little sinister as a parent, Mr. Marlowe, it is because my hold on life is too slight to include any Victorian hypocrisy."
“I need not add that a man who indulges in parenthood for the first time at the age of fifty-four deserves all he gets.”
Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.
"Sure you can’t help me on this?"
I liked his putting it that way. It let me say no without actually lying.
Not being bullet proof is an idea I had had to get used to.
He was afraid of the police, of course, being what he is, and he probably thought it a good idea to have the body hidden until he had removed his effects from the house.
"Being what he is," which would be gay. I appreciate the progress we have made as a culture, in many ways. We have further to go.
Cops get very large and emphatic when an outsider tries to hide anything, but they do the same things themselves every other day, to oblige their friends or anybody with a little pull.
"You’ll hear from him."
"Too late will be too soon," I said,
I read all three of the morning papers over my eggs and bacon the next morning. Their accounts of the affair came as close to the truth as newspaper stories usually come—as close as Mars is to Saturn.
“What makes you think I’m doing anything for him?”
I didn’t answer that.
Then my eyes adjusted themselves more to the darkness and I saw there was something across the floor in front of me that shouldn’t have been there. I backed, reached the wall switch with my thumb and flicked the light on.
The bed was down.
HUH. Marlowe has a Murphy bed, too!
I’m your friend. I won’t let you down—in spite of yourself.
I threw my cigarette on the floor and stamped on it.
A significantly different world. There are many references to cigar and cigarette ash being allowed to fall into the rug.
It seemed a little too pat. It had the austere simplicity of fiction rather than the tangled woof of fact.
There was a tarnished and well-missed spittoon on a gnawed rubber mat.
Again, different world.
“It’s very funny,” she said breathlessly. “Very funny, because, you see—I still love him. Women—” She began to laugh again.
What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.
This is book 5 of the Peter Grant series.
I have so been enjoying the Peter Grant series, and strongly recommend them to anyone who enjoys the Dresden Files or the Alex Verus series. A different flavor of the modern-day wizard, urban fantasy story, and one that seems, if one can suspend disbelief, reasonable in terms of "We don't know" and "Let's find out" of magic. That anyone can learn is a premise of the story-line, which I can appreciate.
The book centers around the disappearance of two girls in a small English town (village, hamlet, something...). Initially unsure if there's anything "weird" about their disappearances, that there is a WW2 era practitioner living nearby lends reason to investigate, and Peter does.
The book deals with some of Peter's life frustrations. He's been holding things together, despite some ugh awful things happening. We learn more of Peter's history, more of his family dynamics.
The book was a fast read. There are two more currently published book and one novella in the series. Will definitely keep reading them.
Once Mr. Punch and the M25 were behind me, I tuned the car radio to Five Live, which was doing its best to build a twenty-four-hour news cycle out of about half an hour of news.
This cracked me up. Yes about how frustrating news cycles are in order to obtain and keep attention.
Never underestimate the ability of a police driver to misjudge a corner when finally coming home from a twelve-hour shift.
Missing kids are tough cases. I mean, murder is bad but at least the worst has already happened to the victim—they’re not going to get any deader. Missing kids come with a literal deadline, made worse by the fact that you don’t get to learn the timing until it’s too late.
“Do you think I’m going to get my daughter back?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said.
Because you’ve got to have hope and no news is good news. And because the best you can do is sound like you’re being forthright and sincere. If they get their kids back they won’t even remember what you said and if they don’t—then nothing else will be important.
Hope will kill you.
“Something suitably weird.”
“That’s a bit presumptuous, isn’t it?” I said.
“Presumptuous is my middle name,” said Dominic.
We trooped off behind her into waist high bracken, down something that was not so much a path as a statistical variation in the density of the undergrowth.
He called it potentia because there’s nothing quite like Latin for disguising the fact that you’re making it up as you go along.
Polidori’s theories were as good as anyone else’s. But sticking a Latin tag on a theory doesn’t make it true. Not true in a way that matters.
Absence of evidence, as any good archeologist will tell you, is not the same as evidence of absence.
A lot of men must have left their belongings behind in 1944 believing that they were coming back.
We all do this. We assume we have more life.
Not always a good assumption.
All your cases, I thought, do not belong to us.
This cracked me up. I love the cultural references in these books, even if I do have to look up most of the English ones.
Right, I thought. If you can’t be clever then at least you can be thorough.
And everyone can do the work.
During the whole pointless process not one resident refused to let us in or objected to us looking around, which I found creepy because there’s always one. But Dominic said no. “Not in the countryside,” he said.
“Community spirit?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “That and everyone would know that they hadn’t cooperated, which people would find suspicious. In a village that sort of thing sticks for, like, generations.”
I wanted to ask where Beverley was, and how the Teme family just happened to have her phone. But if there’s one thing Nightingale has taught me, it’s to let other people talk themselves out before giving anything away.
We were pretty certain we knew roughly where he’d been, but members of the public have an unnerving tendency to switch straight from lying to your face to telling you what they think you want to hear—with no intervening period of veracity at all.
That’s fine when you’re looking for them to put their hand up to some crimes and boost your clear-up statistics. But when the lives of two kids depends on the accuracy of the statement, you tend to be a bit more thorough.
He told us the truth, although it took ages to pry all the sordid details out. Which just goes to show that if you want a confession, use a telephone book—but if you want the truth, you’ve got to put in the hours.
Nightingale says that conspiracies of silence are the only kind of conspiracies that stand the test of time.
I woke in the hour before dawn, stuck in that strange state where the memory of your dreams is still powerful enough to motivate your actions.
Wow, yes. Those moments are powerful.
Because it’s always a waste of time, all those rushed, angry stupid things you do. They never solve the problems. Because in real life that rush of adrenaline and rage just makes you dumb and seeing red just leads you up the steps to court for something aggravated—assault, battery, stupidity.
“Imposing themselves on the landscape”—they’d always called it that on Time Team.
Especially the beardy Iron and Bronze Age specialists—“ The Romans imposed themselves on the landscape.” Or, I thought, they wanted to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.
“You said that there’s weird shit, but it normally turns out to have a rational explanation.”
“It does,” said Beverley. “The explanation is a wizard did it.”
“That’s my line,” I said, and Beverley shrugged.
Again, cracking up.
“Sic transit Gloria mundi,” I said, because it was the first thing that came into my head—we clinked and drank. It could have been worse. I could have said “Valar Morghulis” instead.
"Thus passes the glory of the world," in Latin, and "All men must die," in High Valyrian.
I didn’t tell her that I was pretty much legally required to have an adult present—it’s easier to manage people if they maintain a sense of agency.
I had one of those “somebody do something” moments when you suddenly have the realization that the person supposed to be doing something is you.
The night may be dark and full of terrors, I thought, but I’ve got a big stick.
When faced with a low-level hostage situation your first task is to calm the hostage taker down long enough to find out what they want. Then you can lie to them convincingly until you negotiate the hostage back, or are in a position to dog pile the perpetrator.
You swear an oath when you become a police officer—you promise to serve the Queen in the office of constable with fairness, integrity and impartiality, and that you will cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offenses against people and property. The very next day you start making the first of the many minor and messy compromises required to get the Job done. But sooner or later the Job walks up to you, pins you against the wall, looks you in the eye and asks you how far you’re willing to go to prevent all offenses. Asks just what did your oath, your attestation, really mean to you?
But sometimes the right thing to do is the right thing to do, especially when a child is involved.
In the large list of "books I knew about and didn't read in childhood, but are still in print," this book came to my attention, so I plunked it on my library hold list without thinking about it much. It dropped into my reading queue, and I ripped through it.
This is a notable book in the Logans Series, about a black family living in the American South during the 1930s, which is to say, the Great Depression. The family was lucky, in that they owned their own land, but owning and holding onto land if often two very different things, especially when power and prejudice and greed come into play.
The story follows Cassie, who is nine, as she experiences the subtle and overt racism of her times. Taylor does a good job of describing the ugliness of human nature as seen from a young person's perspective. If anything, I'd argue that Taylor left out a lot of the uglier parts, which is likely a good thing, given the target audience.
A number of times in the book, Cassie complains that things aren't fair. And, yes, god yes, I'm agreeing with the character. Even now, things aren't fair, they will never be fair, and that frustrates me, even in fictional books.
The book doesn't lose its impact over its 42 years of print. Worth reading.
“Well, I just think you’re spoiling those children, Mary. They’ve got to learn how things are sometime.”
“Maybe so,” said Mama, “but that doesn’t mean they have to accept them… and maybe we don’t either.”
We preferred to do without them; unfortunately, Mama cared very little about what we preferred.
“But, Big Ma, it ain’t fair!” wailed Little Man. “It just ain’t fair.”
“If I was to be walking out there when the bus comes, that ole bus driver would be sure to speed up so’s he could splash me,” I suggested.
“See, fellows, there’s a system to getting out of work,” T.J. was expounding as I sat down. “Jus’ don’t be ’round when it’s got to be done. Only thing is, you can’t let your folks know that’s what you’re doin’. See, you should do like me. Like this mornin’ when Mama wanted to bring back them scissors she borrowed from Miz Logan, I ups and volunteers so she don’t have to make this long trip down here, she bein’ so busy and all. And naturally when I got here, y’all wanted me to stay awhile and talk to y’all, so what could I do? I couldn’t be impolite, could I? And by the time I finally convince y’all I gotta go, all the work’ll be done at home.” T.J. chuckled with satisfaction. “Yeah, you just have to use the old brain, that’s all.”
Just Do. The. Work.
This character is like so many people these days: they work harder not to do the work than the effort of doing the work would actually take.
“Baby, you had to grow up a little today. I wish… well, no matter what I wish. It happened and you have to accept the fact that in the world outside this house, things are not always as we would have them to be.”
Mama’s hold tightened on mine, but I exclaimed, “Ah, shoot! White ain’t nothin’!” Mama’s grip did not lessen.
“It is something, Cassie. White is something just like black is something. Everybody born on this earth is something and nobody, no matter what color, is better than anybody else.”
“Then how come Mr. Simms don’t know that?”
“Because he’s one of those people who has to believe that white people are better than black people to make himself feel big.”
“They also said that slavery was good for us because it taught us to be good Christians—like the white people.” She sighed deeply, her voice fading into a distant whisper. “But they didn’t teach us Christianity to save our souls, but to teach us obedience. They were afraid of slave revolts and they wanted us to learn the Bible’s teachings about slaves being loyal to their masters."
"... and people like Mr. Simms hold on to that belief harder than some other folks because they have little else to hold on to. For him to believe that he is better than we are makes him think that he’s important, simply because he’s white."
“But there are other things, Cassie, that if I’d let be, they’d eat away at me and destroy me in the end. And it’s the same with you, baby. There are things you can’t back down on, things you gotta take a stand on. But it’s up to you to decide what them things are. You have to demand respect in this world, ain’t nobody just gonna hand it to you. How you carry yourself, what you stand for—that’s how you gain respect. But, little one, ain’t nobody’s respect worth more than your own. You understand that?”
“Now, there ain’t no sense in going around being mad. You clear your head so you can think sensibly."
"Maybe even do what they doing now. It’s hard on a man to give up, but sometimes it seems there just ain’t nothing else he can do.”
Nearer the fence a stocky man, masked like the others, searched the field in robot fashion for hidden fire under the charred skeletons of broken stalks.
Were robots around in 1930, that she'd be able to make this comparison?
Okay, most people know who Mickey Mantle is. Most people know my opinion on baseball. And most people who know me know I'm not a fan of biographies. If you didn't know, well, it comes down to it doesn't matter how great the person was, said person was still human, and thus any honest biography is going to show us where our hero stumbled and fell, and off the pedestal they fall. Not a fan, I like my illusions, thank you very much.
And so, we have the biography of Mickey Mantle. Why did I read this book? I'm trying to clean my library hold list, and this one was available. I didn't finish it before it was due, but was able to renew, so there's that.
Mantle was a product of his father and of his time. He had the natural talent, the determination of his father for his son to succeed where he did not, the life-long training, and f'ing bad luck. I understand this last one. The first part maybe not so much.
When I mentioned I was going to read Mantle's biography to Kris, he looked at me surprised. "You know, he was a drunk, right?" I shrugged. "He was also a great," I responded. "Yeah, I met him once."
That exchange stuck with me as I read the book. Here we have someone who was great, who could have been better, and life threw him a couple curveballs he couldn't hit, and alcohol became a coping mechanism. Talk about a tale as old as human history.
So, yeah, the man was a great baseball player. He was nice. He was a drunk. He lived, he coped as best he could, he died. The story was interesting, from the perspective of someone who didn't grow up with baseball, didn't really understand it until well into her adulthood, and wanted a reasonable look at the man's life. I appreciated the biography was written by woman.
If you're a fan of Mantle, don't read the book. If you're a fan of baseball, and understand and accept that idols will fall, the book is worth reading.
He always shot from below, the angle of icons, rendering his subjects larger than life. Clouds and foliage were banished from the frame; nothing was allowed to clutter the image.
The photo is a touchstone of another era: when boys were allowed to be boys and it was okay to laugh at them for being themselves, when it was okay not to know and to forgive what you did know.
People who loved him and loathed him agree he was an uncommonly honest man, a trait he bequeathed to his family.
So how do you write about a man you want to love the way you did as a child but whose actions were often unlovable? How do you reclaim a human being from caricature without allowing him to be fully human? How do you find the light within the darkness without examining the dimensions of both?
Tommy Henrich, Old Reliable, was assigned the task of turning him into an outfielder, teaching him how to gauge the angle of the ball off the bat; how to position his body to catch the ball on his back foot and get rid of it in one smooth motion; how to react to a drive hit straight at him.
He called his father and said he wanted to come home. “I was down,
“Everybody was in the room. Then we went outside, but you could hear. I heard him say, ‘If that’s all the man you are, then get your clothes and let’s go home.’ Mutt did not yell. He spoke with authority. Mick was crying, of course. He was embarrassed because he wasn’t cutting the pie.”
Mantle was too eager and too innocent to understand his dangerous indiscretion.
He would play the next seventeen years struggling to be as good as he could be, knowing he would never be as good as he might have become.
A clinic opened in Picher in 1927, but it was for the benefit of the mine operators, who were anxious to cull the sick from the workforce. Doctors provided advice but no treatment. Annual X-ray examinations were compulsory. Miners were required to carry a wallet-sized health card certifying that they were free of disease. Those whose X-rays came back positive were fired the same day and could never be hired by another mine.
Hate this abuse. If you think about it, it wasn't that long ago.
Leaving a holiday party with Mickey, Sr., one year, Larry paused to embrace their mother. “We get outside, and Mick said, ‘I wish I could do that.’
“And I said, ‘What?’
“He said, ‘Kiss Mom on the cheek like that and hug her.’
“I said, ‘Just walk up and do it.’
“I really felt sorry for him that he couldn’t. Because, my goodness, that must be terrible.”
“He was scared to death of everything. Granddad said, ‘I never dreamed he would grow up to be what he was because he was such a sissy.’ ”
At Christmas, when all the other children got a pair of socks, there was always enough money to buy him a new baseball glove. He would cry, he later told a friend, because he didn’t get any toys.
Playtime was over when Mutt got home from work. Every afternoon was punctuated by the rhythmic bang of the ball against the corrugated metal siding of the ramshackle shed.
“Every day at 4 P.M., Mickey had to be home, no matter where he was or what he was doing, to do batting practice,” Max said. “They’d throw a tennis ball. They’d stand him up against that leaning shed. He’d hit it up against the house. If it hit the ground, it was an out; below the window, a double; above the window, a triple; over the house, a home run. Every day.”
If Mickey got out, they all got out. It was a huge—if unarticulated—burden to place on one boy’s shoulders.
By the next baseball season, he began to look like a ballplayer. Probably it was just the natural order of things, a boy growing into a man, but the change in him was so immediate and so dramatic, it reinforced belief in a connection between the penicillin and the growth spurt that followed.
“When he got that penicillin in him, boy, his body shot out and the muscles in his arms jumped out,” Mosely said.
Greenwade asked why he was pitching instead of playing the infield. “Someone’s got to do it,” he replied.
Greenwade, who later claimed he didn’t know Mantle was a switch-hitter until that game, played down his talents when he spoke to Mutt. Marginal prospect. Might make it, might not. Kind of small. Not a major league shortstop. Imagine how galling it must have been every time Mantle heard Greenwade later boast, “The first time I saw Mantle, I knew how Paul Krichell felt when he first saw Lou Gehrig.”
“What gripes you about those scouts in those days is they sign a guy out of poverty and he’d make the big leagues and then they’d brag about how cheap they got you,” Terry said.
Mantle was afraid the Yankees would send him home before his $750 bonus kicked in on June 30. His insecurity was palpable; teammates found him softhearted and unexpectedly tender.
Failure also made him petulant. When Mutt asked Lombardi how Mickey was doing, Lombardi replied, “He’ll be great if he quits pouting.”
Gaynor gave him a weighted boot and a set of exercises to strengthen the quadriceps muscle and give support to his knee. Mantle ignored his instructions, preferring, he said later, to sit around, watch TV, and feel sorry for himself.
As his friend Joe Warren said, “When you don’t raise your children to make their own decisions, then they grow up and they don’t know how to make decisions.”
Without Mutt, there was no one with the moral authority to insist, no one to say no to Mickey Mantle. He would never grant anyone that authority again.
Without Mutt, he was adrift, save for the organizational imperatives imposed by the baseball season. Free to make his own decisions, he made bad ones.
How did Mantle play with a torn ACL? It can be done, Haas says. “Mickey Mantle can be classified as a ‘neuromuscular genius,’ one of a select few who are so well wired that they are able to compensate for severe injuries like this and still perform at the highest levels, overcoming a particular impairment at a given moment. It is a phenomenon comprised of motivation, high pain threshold, strength, reflexes, and luck.”
In 1968, the last spring of Mantle’s career, Soares observed: “Mickey has a greater capacity to withstand pain than any man I’ve ever seen. Some doctors have seen X-rays of his legs and won’t believe they are the legs of an athlete still active.”
“Later, the people in the medical department told me he never followed the instructions. I thought he did. He told me he was better. He didn’t follow the directions. I don’t think he followed anyone’s directions. He was a great athlete, a very poor patient.”
The point of the argument was having it, not solving it. It was sustaining and somehow defining. Who you chose as your guy told you something about yourself—who you wanted to be and how you wanted to be.
Branch Rickey, baseball’s most original thinker, planted the seeds of this new math by hiring the first team statistician in 1947—the same year he and Jackie Robinson defied baseball’s color barrier. Seven years later, he and his stat man, Allan Roth, pioneered the formula for on-base percentage. This arithmetic innovation was met with predictable disdain: “Baseball isn’t statistics,” groused Jimmy Cannon. “Baseball is DiMaggio rounding second.”
He would hate what the game became.
Jim Bouton seconded that opinion years later: “Statistics are about as interesting as first base coaches.”
Unless you're a stats-geek, and then it's heaven.
By 2001, James, paterfamilias of the stat-geek generation, had conceded that clarity had been all but lost in the numerical dust storm of mutating calculations and
Ah. Okay. Heh.
To the gimlet eye of a modern stat geek, walks are the key to Mantle’s superior on-base percentage and the reason he fares so well in a pre ponderance of the new offensive metrics. Nor is Mantle’s self-flagellation over his lifetime .298 batting average warranted.
“He was measuring himself with the yardstick he grew up with in the 1930s,” Thorn said. Little wonder that teammates fulminated at all the “what ifs.”
“I hate it when people say how much he wasted,” said Clete Boyer. “Jesus Christ, how much better could he have been?”
Reggie Jackson turned away from tracking the flight of one hundred batting-practice hacks to consider the question of Mickey Mantle and white-skin privilege.
It is the one “what if” nobody wants to talk about. If Mickey had been black and Willie had been white, what kind of conversation would there have been? Would there even have been a conversation? How much does race influence the way they are remembered?
This confused me at first, because I didn't know about the Mays Mantle comparison. I had no frame of reference for this conversation until I had read through it. I didn't reread it for clarity, though.
I think character flaws bring compassion for all colors.
Irvin watched with admiration as Mantle improved himself first as an outfielder and later as a public person. He listened when fantasy campers asked Mantle the question.
“‘Well,’ he’d say, ‘Mays was a better fielder. I had more power and hit the ball farther.’ He came out and told the truth.
“He made people like him. I told Willie, ‘You should be a little more personable. They’d like you the way they like Mickey.’
“But he never did.”
Mickey shrugged. “He had to do it. He did it to Willie. He made his mistake when he did it to Willie. In the back of my mind it bugs me a little. It sounds worse than it is. A guy or two said, ‘Jesus Christ, you were my boyhood idol, now you’re banned. You must have done something bad.’ I feel really kind of bad no one took up for me. It’s, like, ‘Well, fine, he’s gone.’ ” Mays took up for him, sort of. “He’s never gonna harm baseball or anybody else,” Mays said. “The only one he ever harmed was himself.”
He decided to lighten the mood with a joke. “God calls Saint Peter over, and he says, ‘Saint Peter, I was down on Earth and I made this man and this woman and I forgot to put their sexual organs on them. You take this pecker and this pussy down there and put ’em on them.’ “Saint Peter says, ‘Okay.’ And he’s getting ready to leave, and God says, ‘Be sure to put the pussy on the short, dumb one.’ ”
Yeah, did I mention the fall off the pedestal?
Recklessness was always part of his charm, his cheerful, who-gives-a-fuck élan. But with each increasingly precarious turn threatening to upend the cart, with every vicious twist of his lower body as he swung through the ball, his limp became more pronounced and the consequences of his wildness more patent.
That fall, in the sixth inning of game 4 of the World Series, Roebuck threw him a sinker that “hung out over the plate.” Not for long. Duke Snider admired the parabolic view in center field.
“I don’t mind you not charging it,” Roebuck told him later. “But you don’t have to stop to see how far it went.” Roebuck understood: length is a guy thing. Size matters.
“Seriously,” he said, laughing. “That’s what made the male regard Mantle that way. Forget God. Mickey Mantle can hit the ball farther than anybody.”
Mantle had no idea what he did right or wrong or differently batting right-handed and left-handed. More than likely he would have had little truck with present-day baseball pedagogy.
They don’t talk baseball; they discuss the “relationship amongst the sweet spot, COP, and vibration nodes in baseball bats,” the topic of a treatise published in Proceedings of the 5th Conference of Engineering of Sport.
Kandel, a physician trained in psychiatry and neurobiology, explained: “There are two kinds of memories. They’re called implicit and explicit. Explicit memory is a memory of people, places, and objects. If you think of the last time you sat in a baseball stadium and remember who you were with, you’re doing explicit memory storage. “Implicit memory storage is hitting a tennis ball, hitting a baseball, doing anything that involves sensory motor skills.”
Kandel was in a conversation I recently had with Bob. I'll likely add his latest book to my reading pile, really soon, like, done.
Muscle memory is a form of implicit memory that is recalled through performance, Kandel said, “without conscious effort or even the awareness that we are drawing on memory.”
It’s also why the greatest athletes usually make the lousiest coaches.
Let me tell you a story about Tyler Grant.
... forcing them to articulate what they do and how they do it, their performance deteriorates. Compelled to surrender what he calls “expertise-induced amnesia”—in short, to make an implicit memory explicit again—“ they start thinking about what they’re doing and mess everything up,” he said.
The brain can bulk up, too. Repeated experience can form new synaptic connections, especially if you start building up those implicit memories before puberty. The right genes nurtured the right way—meaning early enough and often enough—creates the potential for a particular kind of genius.
A 90-mile-per-hour fastball doesn’t leave much time for thought. Traveling at a rate of 132 feet per second, it makes the sixty-foot, six-inch journey from pitcher to batter in four-tenths of a second. The ball is a quarter of the way to home plate by the time a hitter becomes fully aware of it. Because there is a 100-millisecond delay between the time the image of the ball hits the batter’s retina and when he becomes conscious of it, it is physiologically impossible to track the ball from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s glove.
Neurologically speaking, every batter is a guess-hitter. That’s where implicit memory comes in. The ability to infer the type of pitch and where it’s headed with accuracy and speed is inextricably linked with stored experience—the hitter has seen that pitch before, even if he can’t see it all the way.
“The report was, you had to jam him,” said Osteen, then in the eighth of his eighteen years in the majors. “If you’ve got a guy like Mantle who’s standing miles away from the plate, where there is so much daylight between the inside corner and his hands, it’s frightening. It’s right down the middle of the plate for a guy like that.”
“I went in there. It was a fastball, right on the black,” he said. “Right away he went straight into the ball and closed that daylight up.”
The margin of error was a sliver of daylight. Which explains why when he was asked how he had pitched to Mantle, the late Frank Sullivan said, “With tears in my eyes.”
“Oh, that night,” Carmen Berra said, recalling Billy Martin’s twenty-ninth birthday, the last one before you get old.
Baseball writers ate, drank, and traveled with the team. Their tab was often paid by the team. “You couldn’t write one word of it, the debauchery,” said Jack Lang, the longtime executive secretary of the Baseball Writers Association of America. “It wasn’t just liquor. It was the women.”
The locker room code of honor was inviolable: What happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse—even if it doesn’t take place in the clubhouse.
“The Yankee clubhouse was, like, below street level,” Mantle told me. “We had windows, like, where people are walking along. Girls used to come stand there, and we used to shoot water guns up in their puss. We could see ’em kind of flinch. They’d be looking around trying to figure out where the fuck that water is coming from.”
Mantle once said that Martin was the only guy he knew who “could hear someone give him the finger.” He negotiated life with a chip on his shoulder, and those in the know gave him a wide berth.
Yet Billy Martin’s birthday party was a watershed event, and not just because it gave Weiss the occasion to trade him. It was the day sportswriting began to grow up. The era of hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil could not withstand TV’s increasingly intrusive cathode glare or the skepticism of an irreverent cohort of young sportswriters for whom questioning authority was a generational prerogative.
Mantle sat out game 5, the ninth World Series game he had missed due to injury, and the Yankees lost 1–0. They won game 6 without him but lost game 7—and the World Series—despite his return to the lineup. His throwing arm would never be the same.
“Guided differently, he could have done better for himself as a human being,” Jerry Coleman said. “He would have liked himself more.”
And the guy poured him at least two more jiggers in that one, and he threw that one down. He wanted that anesthetic feeling up there in the prefrontal lobe.”
She never could get accustomed to the familial reserve. “Mick’s family was cold,” she told me. “They didn’t visit. He didn’t visit.” And when they did pay a call, they didn’t show up emotionally.
“Nobody would talk. It was weird. Nobody would say anything,” Merlyn told me. “And the only way they could really talk was when everybody got bombed. Everybody had to have the beer. They could not relax and visit with each other unless they were having beers.”
“All they said was hello and goodbye,” Danny Mantle said.
His people skills—emotional intelligence in modern parlance—made a lasting impression on Mark Freeman during the brief time they played together in 1959. “I think he’s basically one of the most decent guys I’ve ever met,” he told Leonard Schecter of the Post.
Beat writers suspected there was another Mantle, one who didn’t begin every conversation with “Fuck you” or “Go fuck yourself” or, when he was pressed for time, just plain “Fuck.”
He was a guy’s guy who called everyone “bud” or “pard.” But he cried easily. He wept at mournful country-western tunes, and at the morning headlines. “Somebody got killed or something, he’d get tears in his eyes,” Irv Noren said.
In the clubhouse, Mantle shed the residue of bias he had brought with him from Commerce.
One in the plus column.
“He’d say, C’mon, there’s a great place across the street.’ One of his favorites was having Coke and milk together. After a while it really didn’t taste too bad. He loved that drink. He’d have it even on airplanes. It’s like a root beer float.”
He replied to the incessant inquiries for medical updates by pinning a sign to his chest: “Slight improvement. Back in two weeks. Don’t ask.”
It was his first—albeit unacknowledged—hangover home run. “Pinch-hit, eighth or ninth inning, when he was too drunk to play,” Linz said, one of perhaps three or four times he saw Mantle play in that condition.
This was the only time the bat actually bent in his hands.
This would have been amazing to see.
By the time the morning papers rolled off the presses, the “Man of Mishaps” had been transmogrified into “a tragic figure,” “the champion hard-luck guy,” and “the most fabulous invalid in the long history of sport.”
The Yankees were trailing by a run in the bottom of the seventh inning of the second game when Mantle emerged from the dugout to pinch-hit. The ovation began at the bat rack and reached a crescendo when Bob Sheppard announced his name. The roar “shook the windows of the Bronx County Courthouse,” one paper said.
Equally shaken, Mantle dug his spikes into the dirt on the right side of the plate and told himself, “Don’t just stand there and take three pitches—swing.” The Orioles were well aware that it was his first at-bat since the injury in Baltimore.
“Big George Brunet was on the mound,” Brooks Robinson said. “He just reared back and threw on every pitch.” Brunet threw one pitch, which Mantle took for a called strike, and then another. “Mantle swung his bat in anger for the first time in 61 games,” the Times reported, redirecting the ball into the left field stands.
“The most amazing thing is, it was not a pitch that most right-handed hitters are ever gonna get airborne,” Downing said. “And not only was it airborne, it was airborne about twenty feet off the ground and just hit those seats and ricocheted like a rocket!”
Mantle wasn’t sure he had pulled the ball enough. When the umpire signaled home run, he thought, “Gee, I’m a lucky stiff.” He broke into a cold sweat and something that resembled a trot. Later, he said he wasn’t sure how he made it around the bases and, in fact, didn’t remember doing so.
The roar of adulation eclipsed the two-minute standing ovation that had greeted him when he hobbled to the plate. It got louder and louder as he headed toward home. The Orioles applauded silently. “Gives you chills standing over there at first base,” Powell said. “Just being in the ballpark gave you chills.”
As Mantle rounded third base, Brooks Robinson thought “That’s why he’s Mickey Mantle.” By the time he reached home plate, “there was tears runnin’ all over his face,” Yankee pitcher Stan Williams said. He noticed because it was one of the rare occasions when Mantle allowed the outside world to see “how much it meant to him, how much the fans meant to him, how much the moment meant to him.”
“Mantle hit the most god-awful tomahawk-swing line drive into the left field bleachers,” McCormick said.
“Over the hedges,” Bauer said. “Honest to God, I didn’t think he’d make it around the bases,” Boyer said.
“He kinda sobered his way around,” McCormick said. He would hear about it for the rest of his career: “Even the drunks can hit home runs off of you.”
The sparse crowd was treated to an unfamiliar sight: Mantle batted right-handed against the right-hander, a transgression his father had abhorred. The departure in form was duly noted upstairs in the press box. Queried about it later, Mantle said he wanted to see if he could hit behind the runner batting from the right side.
This amused me. I love that he was still experimenting.
“I got my butt chewed pretty bad. I said, ‘Eddie, what difference does it make?’
“We played baseball for fun.”
“Then he struck him out with a fastball around the letters,” Roseboro said. “Mantle looked back at me and said, ‘How in the fuck are you supposed to hit that shit?’”
Kids who imitated his stiff-legged arrival at second base didn’t realize it was the only way he could bring himself to a stop.
Mickey had two different batting strokes: right-handed, he would hit on top of the ball. He would tomahawk the ball. Even his home runs to left field, a lot of ’em were line drives with top spin on ’em. They get out there real quick and sink and dive down into the bleachers. Left-handed, he undercut the ball. So here’s Barney Schultz throwing right into his power. Barney Schultz’s ball is breaking down, and Mickey’s bat goes down and . . .”
Mantle stood in. Schultz wound up. McCarver knew right away: “Nothing good was gonna come of this pitch.” It didn’t dance or flutter or defy expectation. It didn’t do anything at all.
“It wasn’t thrown,” McCarver said. “It was dangled like bait to a big fish. Plus it lingered in that area that was down, and Mickey was a lethal low-ball hitter left-handed. The pitch was so slow that it allowed him to turn on it and pull"
“When he left at 6: 30 A.M., Mickey and Whitey were in no condition to play baseball,” Lolich said. “He had done his job as far as he was concerned. He said, the next day Whitey pitched nine innings of shutout ball and Mantle hit two home runs.”
There are two kinds of baseball fans: those who bellow invective at the opposition no matter what and those who stand for a worthy adversary.
“I wake up most every day at 5: 30 or 6: 00 A.M.,” he said. “All those dreams.” A medley of recurring nightmares that make the long nights longer. Missed trains, missed planes, missed curfews—missed opportunities. “The hard part is just getting through it,” he said. Buses don’t stop. Fly balls don’t fly. Doors no longer open for The Mick. “I always felt I should have played longer.”
“People have always placed Joe and Mickey on a pedestal,” Tony Kubek told Daily News columnist Bill Madden years later. “The difference is Joe always liked being there and Mickey never felt like he belonged.”
His jealousy was palpable. “He would never look at Mickey Mantle until Mickey spoke to him—every time,” Clete Boyer said. “Mickey never said a bad word to the public about Joe D. Just to us.”
When he was in Dallas, Mantle organized his life around the clubhouse at Preston Trail, the posh all-male Dallas golf club he had joined as a charter member in 1965, trying to re-create the camaraderie of the locker room.
“Near the end he was really terrible to her, humiliating her,” said a friend who spent time with them at the Claridge. “She’d say she wanted to go to the hairdresser and ask for money. Mick would peel off a $ 1 bill and hand it to her in front of people, making her grovel.”
Sometimes he spoke of suicide. “I’m not sure he cared if he died,” Merlyn told me. “Mick just felt guilty. He wanted to lay down on the railroad tracks.”
“The misery would be over,” David said.
Mantle told him about seeing Ryne Duren on TV talking about his recovery. “That guy, when he was playing ball, was a wreck and he whipped it. He goes around talking, and he does a lot of good. If I can go out there and come back and the fact that I’ve whipped the drinking can help somebody else, then, sure, I want that known.”
Somewhere, sometime, he figured out that the best defense isn’t a good offense—it’s being as offensive as humanly possible. He deflected scrutiny like an unhittable pitch hacking away, until he got something he could handle. Most people never saw through it. The rest quit trying.
Bob Costas gave the eulogy, speaking for the child he once was, the children we all were before Mickey Mantle forced us to grow up and see the world as it is, not as we wished it to be.
Okay, the subtitle of this book is "Uncovering The Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions," which had me intrigued when it was first mentioned in the book feed of micro.blog. I'm not going to say no to reading a theory about Depression, especially when it comes with a promise of solutions.
The book starts off with the author's tale of his depression and time on anti-depressants and how his therapist keeps telling him he still sounds depressed. He insists no, he's not, but the therapist keeps repeating he still sounds depressed. No way!
The author goes on and keeps having include links to his references. Some of the references were really odd, "the audio of this conversation has been confirmed by my publisher" and "so and so recalled this the same way" kind of weird. Turns out, the author had previously been caught plagarizing himself and making stuff up, so he needed to be extra cautious in his books.
So, read with a bit of caution. Sure.
Except the studies and examples and anedcotes and stories and and and yeah, some of it isn't science but some of that not-science just... feels... right... as true, as something someone depressed needs to try when they want out of the cycle and want to heal, want to be whole.
Basic premise: we have lost the connections to our values, to ourselves, to our community, to our world. Without those connections, we are lost, we lack meaning, direction, purpose. Discover, embrace, and nurture those connection and the depression can be lifted.
It's very much along the lines of helping others can help oneself. We need our tribe, we need our community, we need nature (the green, the forests, the paths, the hiking, the sun, the water, the clean air), we need purpose. As long as we keep ignoring these connections, we perpetuate the cycle. Going it alone, as is the western culture's attitude, won't work, as being alone is a cause.
So, yeah, depression a thing in your life? Not the sadness thing, not the grief thing, the depression thing? "Why wouldn't you do anything you could to prevent it?" This book is a good start. Strongly recommended, might change your life.
It was only years later—in the course of writing this book—that somebody pointed out to me all the questions my doctor didn’t ask that day. Like: Is there any reason you might feel so distressed? What’s been happening in your life? Is there anything hurting you that we might want to change?
No matter how high a dose I jacked up my antidepressants to, the sadness would always outrun it.
I was doing everything right, and yet something was still wrong.
You can’t escape it: when scientists test the water supply of Western countries, they always find it is laced with antidepressants, because so many of us are taking them and excreting them that they simply can’t be filtered out of the water we drink every day. 9 We are literally awash in these drugs.
Once you settle into a story about your pain, you are extremely reluctant to challenge it.
Unhappiness and depression are totally different things. There is nothing more infuriating to a depressed person than to be told to cheer up, or to be offered jolly little solutions as if they were merely having a bad week.
At that time, the English doctor had realized that when you give a patient a medical treatment, you are really giving her two things. You are giving her a drug, which will usually have a chemical effect on her body in some way. And you are giving her a story—about how the treatment will affect her.
Somebody once told me that giving a person a story about why they are in pain is one of the most powerful things you can ever do.
The grief exception revealed something that the authors of the DSM — the distillation of mainstream psychiatric thinking — were deeply uncomfortable with. They had been forced to admit, in their own official manual, that it’s reasonable — and perhaps even necessary — to show the symptoms of depression, in one set of circumstances.
As Joanne Cacciatore researched the grief exception in more detail, she came to believe it revealed a basic mistake our culture is making about pain, way beyond grief. We don’t, she told me, “consider context.” We act like human distress can be assessed solely on a checklist that can be separated out from our lives, and labeled as brain diseases.
“Why do we call it mental health?” she asked me. “Because we want to scientize it. We want to make it sound scientific. But it’s our emotions.”
Jo sat on the floor, and held her, and let the pain come out, and after it did, the mother felt some relief, for a time, because she knew she was not alone.
Sometimes, that is the most we can do.
It’s a lot.
And sometimes, when you listen to the pain and you see it in its context, it will point you to a way beyond it — as I learned later.
What if depression is, in fact, a form of grief — for our own lives not being as they should? What if it is a form of grief for the connections we have lost, yet still need?
This meant, he told me, that he arrived at the psychiatric treatment center he was going to work out of in South London “completely ignorant” of what you are supposed to think about something like depression, and he now believes “that was a great advantage. I had no preconceived ideas [so] I was forced to have an open mind.”
They labeled the first category “difficulties” — which they defined as a chronic ongoing problem, which could range from having a bad marriage, to living in bad housing, to being forced to move away from your community and neighborhood.
The second category looked at the exact opposite — “stabilizers,” the things that they suspected could boost you and protect you from despair. For that, they carefully recorded how many close friends the women had, and how good their relationships with their partners were.
For every good friend you had, or if your partner was more supportive and caring, it reduced depression by a remarkable amount.
So George and Tirril had discovered that two things make depression much more likely — having a severe negative event, and having long-term sources of stress and insecurity in your life.
For example — if you didn’t have any friends, and you didn’t have a supportive partner, your chances of developing depression when a severe negative life event came along were 75 percent. 12 It was much more likely than not.
We all lose some hope when we’re subjected to severe stress, or when something horrible happens to us, but if the stress or the bad events are sustained over a long period, what you get is “the generalization of hopelessness,” Tirril told me.
I realized every one of the social and psychological causes of depression and anxiety they have discovered has something in common. They are all forms of disconnection. They are all ways in which we have been cut off from something we innately need but seem to have lost along the way.
“When work is enriching, life is fuller, and that spills over into the things you do outside work,” he said to me. But “when it’s deadening,” you feel “shattered at the end of the day, just shattered.”
“Disempowerment,” Michael told me, “is at the heart of poor health” — physical, mental, and emotional.
Despair often happens, he had learned, when there is a “lack of balance between efforts and rewards.”
Loneliness hangs over our culture today like a thick smog.
It’s worth repeating. Being deeply lonely seemed to cause as much stress as being punched by a stranger.
If you do that, you always find that lonely people are much more likely to be depressed or anxious. But that doesn’t get us very far — because depressed and anxious people often become afraid of the world, and of social interaction, so they tend to retreat from it.
It turned out that — for the initial five years of data that have been studied so far — in most cases, loneliness preceded depressive symptoms. 8 You became lonely, and that was followed by feelings of despair and profound sadness and depression. And the effect was really big.
Humans need tribes as much as bees need a hive.
Or, as he told me later: loneliness is “an aversive state that motivates us to reconnect.”
Anywhere in the world where people describe being lonely, they will also — throughout their sleep — experience more of something called “micro-awakenings.” These are small moments you won’t recall when you wake up, but in which you rise a little from your slumber.
The best theory is that you don’t feel safe going to sleep when you’re lonely, because early humans literally weren’t safe if they were sleeping apart from the tribe. You know nobody’s got your back — so your brain won’t let you go into full sleep mode. Measuring these “micro-awakenings” is a good way of measuring loneliness.
This showed that loneliness isn’t just some inevitable human sadness, like death. It’s a product of the way we live now.
What this means is that people’s sense that they live in a community, or even have friends they can count on, has been plummeting.
“How many confidants do you have?” They wanted to know how many people you could turn to in a crisis, or when something really good happens to you.
Lonely people are scanning for threats because they unconsciously know that nobody is looking out for them, so no one will help them if they are hurt.
To end loneliness, you need other people — plus something else. You also need, he explained to me, to feel you are sharing something with the other person, or the group, that is meaningful to both of you.
The Internet arrived promising us connection at the very moment when all the wider forces of disconnection were reaching a crescendo.
When he got a job as a software developer and he was given an assignment that made him feel pressured, he found himself endlessly chasing down Internet rabbit holes. He would have three hundred tabs open at any given time.
If you’re a typical Westerner in the twenty-first century, you check your phone once every six and a half minutes. If you’re a teenager, you send on average a hundred texts a day. And 42 percent of us never turn off our phones. Ever.
The compulsive Internet use, she was saying, was a dysfunctional attempt to try to solve the pain they were already in, caused in part by feeling alone in the world.
The difference between being online and being physically among people, I saw in that moment, is a bit like the difference between pornography and sex: it addresses a basic itch, but it’s never satisfying.
There’s a quote from the biologist E. O. Wilson that John Cacioppo — who has taught us so much about loneliness — likes: “People must belong to a tribe.”
Just like a bee goes haywire if it loses its hive, a human will go haywire if she loses her connection to the group.
I asked Tim if, in Pinellas County where he grew up, he ever heard anyone talking about a different way of valuing things, beyond the idea that happiness came from getting and possessing stuff. “Well — I think — not growing up. No,” he said.
It really did seem that materialistic people were having a worse time, day by day, on all sorts of fronts. They felt sicker, and they were angrier. “Something about a strong desire for materialistic pursuits,” he was starting to believe, “actually affected the participants’ day-to-day lives, and decreased the quality of their daily experience.” They experienced less joy, and more despair.
Ever since the 1960s, psychologists have known that there are two different ways you can motivate yourself to get out of bed in the morning. The first are called intrinsic motives — they are the things you do purely because you value them in and of themselves, not because of anything you get out of them.
And there’s a rival set of values, which are called extrinsic motives. They’re the things you do not because you actually want to do them, but because you’ll get something in return — whether it’s money, or admiration, or sex, or superior status.
He got them to lay out their goals for the future. He then figured out with them if these were extrinsic goals — like getting a promotion, or a bigger apartment — or intrinsic goals, like being a better friend or a more loving son or a better piano player.
But people who achieved their intrinsic goals did become significantly happier, and less depressed and anxious. You could track the movement. As they worked at it and felt they became (for example) a better friend — not because they wanted anything out of it but because they felt it was a good thing to do — they became more satisfied with life. Being a better dad? Dancing for the sheer joy of it? Helping another person, just because it’s the right thing to do? They do significantly boost your happiness.
The first is that thinking extrinsically poisons your relationships with other people.
[T]hey found that the more materialistic you become, the shorter your relationships will be, and the worse their quality will be.
There’s strong scientific evidence that we all get most pleasure from what are called “flow states” 13 like this — moments when we simply lose ourselves doing something we love and are carried along in the moment.
... highly materialistic people, he discovered they experience significantly fewer flow states than the rest of us.
When you are extremely materialistic, Tim said to me, “you’ve always kind of got to be wondering about yourself — how are people judging you?” It forces you to “focus on other people’s opinions of you, and their praise of you — and then you’re kind of locked into having to worry what other people think about you, and if other people are going to give you those rewards that you want.
What you really need are connections. But what you are told you need, in our culture, is stuff and a superior status, and in the gap between those two signals — from yourself and from society — depression and anxiety will grow as your real needs go unmet.
So if you become fixated on getting stuff and a superior status, the parts of the pie that care about tending to your relationships, or finding meaning, or making the world better have to shrink, to make way.
And the pressure, in our culture, runs overwhelmingly one way — spend more; work more.
Tim suspected that advertising plays a key role in why we are, every day, choosing a value system that makes us feel worse.
“Advertising at its best is making people feel that without their product, you’re a loser."
This system trains us, Tim says, to feel “there’s never enough. When you’re focused on money and status and possessions, consumer society is always telling you more, more, more, more. Capitalism is always telling you more, more, more. Your boss is telling you work more, work more, work more. You internalize that and you think: Oh, I got to work more, because my self depends on my status and my achievement. You internalize that. It’s a kind of form of internalized oppression.”
“You’ve got to pull yourself out of the materialistic environments — the environments that are reinforcing the materialistic values,” he says, because they cripple your internal satisfactions. And then, he says, to make that sustainable, you have to “replace them with actions that are going to provide those intrinsic satisfactions, [and] encourage those intrinsic goals.”
I ask him if he had withdrawal symptoms from the materialistic world we were both immersed in for so long. “Never,” he says right away. “People ask me that: “Don’t you miss this? Don’t you wish you had that?” No, I don’t, because [I am] never exposed to the messages telling me that I should want it.
By living without these polluting values, Tim has, he says, discovered a secret. This way of life is more pleasurable than materialism.
Joe is constantly bombarded with messages that he shouldn’t do the thing that his heart is telling him would make him feel calm and satisfied. The whole logic of our culture tells him to stay on the consumerist treadmill, to go shopping when he feels lousy, to chase junk values. He has been immersed in those messages since the day he was born. So he has been trained to distrust his own wisest instincts.
Many of these women had been making themselves obese for an unconscious reason: to protect themselves from the attention of men, who they believed would hurt them.
They needed someone to understand why they ate.
Many scientists and psychologists had been presenting depression as an irrational malfunction in your brain or in your genes, but he learned that Allen Barbour, an internist at Stanford University, 15 had said that depression isn’t a disease; depression is a normal response to abnormal life experiences.
Some people don’t want to see this because, at least at first, “it’s more comforting,” Vincent said, to think it’s all happening simply because of changes in the brain. “It takes away an experiential process and substitutes a mechanistic process.” It turns your pain into a trick of the light that can be banished with drugs.
If you believe that your depression is due solely to a broken brain, you don’t have to think about your life, or about what anyone might have done to you.
Magic pill to fix everything!
When you are a child and you experience something really traumatic, you almost always think it is your fault. There’s a reason for this, and it’s not irrational; like obesity, it is, in fact, a solution to a problem most people can’t see.
When you’re a child, you have very little power to change your environment. You can’t move away, or force somebody to stop hurting you. So you have two choices. You can admit to yourself that you are powerless — that at any moment, you could be badly hurt, and there’s simply nothing you can do about it. Or you can tell yourself it’s your fault.
In this way, just like obesity protected those women from the men they feared would rape them, blaming yourself for your childhood traumas protects you from seeing how vulnerable you were and are. You can become the powerful one. If it’s your fault, it’s under your control.
“When people have these kind of problems, it’s time to stop asking what’s wrong with them,” he said, “and time to start asking what happened to them.”
It’s hard to describe what depression and acute anxiety feel like. They are such disorientating states that they seem to escape language, but we have a few clichés that we return to.
If you’re a female baboon, you inherit your place in the hierarchy from your mother, as if you were a posh Englishman in the Middle Ages, but if you’re a male baboon, your place is established through a brutal conflict to see who can clamber to the top.
While I understand this is how it is, I'm still fully annoyed at how much in nature and our society being female is being second class.
When Solomon was lying on a rock with one of the hottest babes of the troop, Uriah walked up in between them and started trying to have sex with her — right in front of the boss-man.
Robert had discovered that having an insecure status was the one thing even more distressing than having a low status.
The more unequal your society, the more prevalent all forms of mental illness are.
It’s hard for a hungry animal moving through its natural habitat and with a decent status in its group to be depressed, she says — there are almost no records of such a thing.
all humans have a natural sense of something called “biophilia.” It’s an innate love for the landscapes in which humans have lived for most of our existence, and for the natural web of life that surrounds us and makes our existence possible.
When you are depressed — as Isabel knows from her own experience — you feel that “now everything is about you.” You become trapped in your own story and your own thoughts, and they rattle around in your head with a dull, bitter insistence. Becoming depressed or anxious is a process of becoming a prisoner of your ego, where no air from the outside can get in.
Faced with a natural landscape, you have a sense that you and your concerns are very small, and the world is very big — and that sensation can shrink the ego down to a manageable size.
But the research is very hard to find funding for, he said, because “a lot of the shape of modern biomedical research has been defined by the pharmaceutical industry,” and they’re not interested because “it’s very hard to commercialize nature contact.” You can’t sell it, so they don’t want to know.
The lesson the depressed bonobos had taught her, she said, is: “Don’t be in captivity. Fuck captivity.”
Especially if the prison is of your own making.
The cruelest thing about depression, she said, is that it drains you of the desire to be as fully alive as this — to swallow experience whole.
How do you develop your sense of identity? How do you know who you are? It seems like an impossibly big question. But ask yourself this: What is the connecting thread that runs from your baby self, vomiting out teething biscuits, to the person who is reading this book now? Will you be the same person twenty years from now? If you met her, would you recognize her? What is the relationship between you in the past and you in the future? Are you the same person all along?
A sense of a positive future protects you. If life is bad today, you can think — this hurts, but it won’t hurt forever. But when it is taken away, it can feel like your pain will never go away.
I took her for a long lunch, and she started to tell me the story of her life since we last met, 10 in a hurried gabble punctuated by her apologizing a lot, although it was never quite clear what for.
We give it a fancy name: we call it being “self-employed,” or the “gig economy” —
For most of us, a stable sense of the future is dissolving, and we are told to see it as a form of liberation.
It made intuitive sense to her, she said. When you have a stable picture of yourself in the future, she explained, what it gives you is “perspective — doesn’t it? You are able to say — ‘ Okay, I’m having a shitty day. But I’m not having a shitty life.’
When I told Marc that I had been given antidepressants for thirteen years and had always been told that all my distress had been caused by a problem inside my brain, he said: “It’s crazy. It’s always related to your life and your personal circumstances.”
Because you are feeling intense pain for a long period, your brain will assume this is the state in which you are going to have to survive from now on — so it might start to shed the synapses that relate to the things that give you joy and pleasure, and strengthen the synapses that relate to fear and despair.
The pain caused by life going wrong can trigger a response that is “so powerful that [the brain] tends to stay there [in a pained response] for a while, until something pushes it out of that corner, into a more flexible place.”
Everyone reading this will know somebody who became depressed, or anxious, yet seemingly had nothing to be unhappy about.
Yet now, if we could go back in a time machine and talk to these women, what we’d say is: You had everything a woman could possibly want by the standards of the culture. You had nothing to be unhappy about by the standards of the culture. But we now know that the standards of the culture were wrong. Women need more than a house and a car and a husband and kids. They need equality, and meaningful work, and autonomy. You aren’t broken, we’d tell them. The culture
You can have everything a person could possibly need by the standards of our culture — but those standards can badly misjudge what a human actually needs in order to have a good or even a tolerable life. The culture can create a picture of what you “need” to be happy — through all the junk values I had been taught about — that doesn’t fit with what you actually need. 19
For a long time, we have been told there are only two ways of thinking about depression. Either it’s a moral failing — a sign of weakness — or it’s a brain disease.
[T]here’s a third option — to regard depression as largely a reaction to the way we are living.
One reason why is that it is “much more politically challenging” 25 to say that so many people are feeling terrible because of how our societies now work. It fits much more with our system of “neoliberal capitalism,” he told me, to say, “Okay, we’ll get you functioning more efficiently, but please don’t start questioning … because that’s going to destabilize all sorts of things.”
Dr. Rufus May, a British psychologist, told me that telling people their distress is due mostly or entirely to a biological malfunction has several dangerous effects on them. The first thing that happens when you’re told this is “you leave the person disempowered, feeling they’re not good enough — because their brain’s not good enough.” The second thing is, he said, that “it pitches us against parts of ourselves.” It says there is a war taking place in your head. On one side there are your feelings of distress, caused by the malfunctions in your brain or genes. On the other side there’s the sane part of you.
But it does something even more profound than that. It tells you that your distress has no meaning — it’s just defective tissue.
He sometimes quotes the Eastern philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, 26 who explained: “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.”
To them, an antidepressant wasn’t about changing your brain chemistry, an idea that seemed bizarre to their culture. It was about the community, together, empowering the depressed person to change his life.
What if changing the way we live — in specific, targeted, evidence-based ways — could be seen as an antidepressant, too?
When they lived in Turkey, the women there had referred to their entire village as “home.” And when they came to Germany, they learned that what you are supposed to think of as home is your own four walls and the space within them — a pinched, shriveled sense of home.
They had made themselves public. And it was only by doing that — by being released into something bigger than themselves — that they had found a release from their pain.
We met in a coffee shop in downtown Berkeley, which is seen by the outside world as a font of left-wing radicalism, but on my way to meet her, I passed lots of young homeless people, all begging, all being ignored.
Yeah, having recently passed the armies of homeless in Berkeley, I know this view.
If you decide to pursue happiness in the United States or Britain, you pursue it for yourself — because you think that’s how it works. You do what I did most of the time: you get stuff for yourself, you rack up achievement for yourself, you build up your own ego. But if you consciously pursue happiness in Russia or Japan or China, you do something quite different. You try to make things better for your group — for the people around you. That’s what you think happiness means, so it seems obvious to you.
Yet if I’m honest, that’s the kind of solution I craved. Something individual; something you can do alone, without any effort; something that takes twenty seconds to swallow every morning, so you can get on with life as it was before. If it couldn’t be chemical, I wanted some other trick, some switch I could flip to make it all fine.
Now, when I feel myself starting to slide down, I don’t do something for myself — I try to do something for someone else.
I learned something I wouldn’t have thought was possible at the start. Even if you are in pain, you can almost always make someone else feel a little bit better.
When you went to see your doctor, you didn’t just get pills. You were prescribed one of over a hundred different ways to reconnect — with the people around you, with the society, and with values that really matter.
Most people come to their doctor because they are distressed. Even when you have a physical pain — like a bad knee — that will feel far worse if you have nothing else in your life, and no connections.
He says he has learned, especially with depression and anxiety, to shift from asking “What’s the matter with you?” to “What matters to you?”
It’s not the work itself that makes you sick. It’s three other things. It’s the feeling of being controlled — of being a meaningless cog in a system. It’s the feeling that no matter how hard you work, you’ll be treated just the same and nobody will notice — an imbalance, as he puts it, between efforts and rewards. And it’s the feeling of being low on the hierarchy — of being a low-status person who doesn’t matter compared to the Big Man in the corner office.
Our politicians are constantly singing hymns to democracy as the best system — this is simply the extension of democracy to the place where we spend most of our time. Josh says it’s an amazing victory for their propaganda system — to make you work in an environment you often can’t stand, and to do it for most of your waking life, and see the proceeds of your labor get siphoned off by somebody at the top, and then to make you “think of yourself as a free person.”
From this experience, she has learned that “people want to work. Everybody wants to work. Everybody wants to feel useful, and have purpose.” 5 The humiliation and control of so many workplaces can suppress that, or drive it out of people, but it’s always there, and it reemerges in the right environment. People “want to feel like they’ve had an impact on other humans — that they’ve improved the world in some way.”
It made me think: Imagine if we had a tough advertising regulator who wouldn’t permit ads designed to make us feel bad in any way. How many ads would survive?
As they explored this in the conversation, it became clear quite quickly — without any prompting from Nathan — that spending often isn’t about the object itself. It is about getting to a psychological state that makes you feel better.
Just asking these two questions — “What do you spend your money on?” and “What do you really value?” — made most people see a gap between the answers that they began to discuss. They were accumulating and spending money on things that were not — in the end — the things that they believed in their heart mattered. Why would that be?
He learned that the average American is exposed to up to five thousand advertising impressions a day — from billboards to logos on T-shirts to TV advertisements. It is the sea in which we swim. And “the narrative is that if you [buy] this thing, it’ll yield more happiness — and so thousands of times a day you’re just surrounded with that message,” he told me.
He began to ask: “Who’s shaping that narrative?” It’s not people who have actually figured out what will make us happy and who are charitably spreading the good news. It’s people who have one motive only — to make us buy their product.
At the next session, he asked the people in the experiment to do a short exercise in which everyone had to list a consumer item they felt they had to have right away. They had to describe what it was, how they first heard about it, why they craved it, how they felt when they got it, and how they felt after they’d had it for a while. For many people, as they talked this through, something became obvious. The pleasure was often in the craving and anticipation. We’ve all had the experience of finally getting the thing we want, getting it home, and feeling oddly deflated, only to find that before long, the craving cycle starts again.
But as she began to read about envy, she realized that our culture was priming her to feel this way. She had been raised to constantly compete and compare, she said. “We’re highly individualistic,” she explained, and we’re constantly told that life is a “zero sum game.
There’s only so many pieces of the pie, so if somebody else has success, or beauty, or whatever, somehow it leaves less for you.
We are trained to think that life is a fight for scarce resources — “ even if it’s for something like intelligence, when there’s no limit to how much human intelligence can grow across the world.” If you become smarter, it doesn’t make me less smart — but we are primed to feel that it does.
And she discovered an ancient technique called “sympathetic joy,” which is part of a range of techniques for which there is some striking new scientific evidence. It is, she says, quite simple. Sympathetic joy is a method for cultivating “the opposite of jealousy or envy … It’s simply feeling happy for other people.”
She was surprised that she could change in this way. “You think that certain things aren’t malleable,” she says, but “they completely are. You can be a total jealous monster, and you think that’s just part of who you are, and you find you can change it [by just] doing some basic thing.”
“I’ve pursued happiness for myself my whole life, and I’m exhausted, and I don’t feel any closer to it — because where does it end? The bar just keeps getting moved.” But this different way of thinking, she said, seemed to offer a real sense of pleasure, and a path away from the depressing, anxiety-provoking thoughts she’d been plagued by.
“There’s always going to be shit coming into your life to be unhappy about. If you can be happy for others, there’s always going to be a supply of happiness available to you.
She’s conscious that to many people, this would sound like a philosophy for losers — you can’t make it, so you have to get a thrill when somebody else does. You’ll lose your edge. You’ll fall behind in the constant race for success. But Rachel thinks this is a false dichotomy. Why can’t you be happy for other people and for yourself? Why would being eaten with envy make you stronger?
He also brought a chestnut he had found on the ground the day his divorce came through, which he had kept, though he didn’t know why.
They both, he said, break our “addiction to ourselves.”
As Fred put it to me, these experiences teach you that “you don’t have to be controlled by your concept of yourself.”
“You could say people have forgotten who they are, what they’re capable of, have gotten stuck … Many depressed people can only see their pains, and their hurts, and their resentments, and their failures. They can’t see the blue sky and the yellow leaves, you know?” This process of opening consciousness up again can disrupt that — and so it disrupts depression. It takes down the walls of your ego and opens you to connecting with what matters.
Our egos protect us. They guard us. They are necessary. But when they grow too big, they cut us off from the possibility of connection. Taking them down, then, isn’t something to be done casually.
There is a great deal of evidence — as I discussed before — that a sense of humiliation plays a big role in depression.
“Time and again,” he said, “we blame a collective problem on the individual. So you’re depressed? You should get a pill. You don’t have a job? Go to a job coach — we’ll teach you how to write a résumé or [to join] LinkedIn. But obviously, that doesn’t go to the root of the problem … Not many people are thinking about what’s actually happened to our labor market, and our society, that these [forms of despair] are popping up everywhere.” Even middle-class people are living with a chronic “lack of certainty” about what their lives will be like in even a few months’ time, he says.
Rutger told me: “When I ask people — ‘ What would you [personally] do with a basic income?’ about 99 percent of people say — ‘ I have dreams, I have ambitions, I’m going to do something ambitious and useful.’” But when he asks them what they think other people would do with a basic income, they say — oh, they’ll become lifeless zombies, they’ll binge-watch Netflix all day.
Every single person reading this is the beneficiary of big civilizing social changes that seemed impossible when somebody first proposed them.
The response to a huge crisis isn’t to go home and weep. It’s to go big. It’s to demand something that seems impossible — and not rest until you’ve achieved it.
It’s a sign, Rutger says, of how badly off track we’ve gone, that having fulfilling work is seen as a freakish exception, like winning the lottery, instead of how we should all be living.
Depression and anxiety have three kinds of causes — biological, psychological, and social. They are all real, and none of these three can be described by something as crude as the idea of a chemical imbalance.
The United Nations — in its official statement for World Health Day in 2017 — explained3 that “the dominant biomedical narrative of depression” is based on “biased and selective use of research outcomes” that “cause more harm than good, undermine the right to health, and must be abandoned.”
You aren’t a machine with broken parts. You are an animal whose needs are not being met. You need to have a community. You need to have meaningful values, not the junk values you’ve been pumped full of all your life, telling you happiness comes through money and buying objects. You need to have meaningful work. You need the natural world. You need to feel you are respected. You need a secure future. You need connections to all these things. You need to release any shame you might feel for having been mistreated.
I know this is going to be hard to hear, I’d tell him, because I know how deep your suffering cuts. But this pain isn’t your enemy, however much it hurts (and Jesus, I know how much it hurts). It’s your ally — leading you away from a wasted life and pointing the way toward a more fulfilling one.
We have lost faith in the idea of anything bigger or more meaningful than the individual, and the accumulation of more and more stuff.
Depression and anxiety might, in one way, be the sanest reaction you have. 6 It’s a signal, saying — you shouldn’t have to live this way, and if you aren’t helped to find a better path, you will be missing out on so much that is best about being human.
I really liked and enjoyed this book. I hadn't read anything by Claire North, yet she joins the surprisingly large number of authors who have books I want to read, but I read a different book by the author instead.
I'm glad I did. This was such a fun read.
Harry August was born in 1919, died in 1989, and was born in 1919 to live his life over again. Given the era of his childhood and his death being three years before the release of the film Groundhog Day, it isn't surprising that the second time through, he pretty much did what most people would do: went insane. The third time through, though, hey, wait a moment.
Honestly, if I had a chance to redo life with all my memories of the previous life / lives, I would be so f'ing full of "HOT DAMN!" I'd likely be labeled insane from giddism. Is that a word? Is now.
I'd probably start to worry about the boredom of never dying sometime past the thirty or fortieth time through. Pretty sure I'd be able to figure out how not to come back when I was truly and goodly done.
I'd also hide immediately, along the lines of the Remembrance of Earth's Past idea that there's likely someone more powerful out there with greater skills, best stay hidden. Or was that After On and being the first sentient computer?
Anyway. Harry. We lurves the Harry.
I enjoyed this book a lot. I strongly recommend this book for any science fiction fan. I recommended it to my mom, and she doesn't read science fiction, I enjoyed it that much.
In my first life I enlisted of my own volition, genuinely believing the three great fallacies of the time – that the war would be brief, that the war would be patriotic and that the war would advance me in my skills.
I had spent an entire life praying for a miracle, and none had come. And now I looked at the stuffy chapel of my ancestors and saw vanity and greed, heard the call to prayer and thought of power, smelled incense and wondered at the waste of it all.
I asked if it was hard, being the first woman in her department. She laughed and said that only idiots judged her for being a woman – and she judged them for being idiots. “The benefit being,” she explained, “that I can be both a woman and a fucking brilliant surgeon, but they’ll always only be idiots.”
They say that the mind cannot remember pain; I say it barely matters, for even if the physical sensation is lost, our recollection of the terror that surrounds it is perfect.
Time is not wisdom; wisdom is not intellect. I am still capable of being overwhelmed; he overwhelmed me.
I told him to study the Great Game, to research the Pashtun, look at a map.
Oooooo! I know this reference! Thanks, Moazam!
I was out of shape, having never been in much of a shape to get out of, and my confinement had hardly aided the process.
“I am honoured. But if your complaint is that ethics have no place in pure science, I’m afraid I must be forced to disagree with you.”
“Of course they don’t! Pure science is no more and no less than the logical process of deduction and experimentation upon observable events. It has no good or bad about it, merely right or wrong in a strictly mathematical definition. What people do with that science is cause for ethical debate, but it is not for the true scientist to concern themselves with that. Leave it to the politicians and philosophers.”
“You can’t say you’re not expecting to achieve a thing, then express resentment that others agree with you.”
Cancer is a process on which the healthy cannot impose.
Private Harry Brookes poured his heart out to a distant stranger who made no reply, but I knew that what I needed was not so much the comfort of return, but to speak of what I had been. The telling was all, the reply merely a courtesy.
"I was bleeding out of my insides I stood there and said, ‘I am a daughter of this beautiful land, and I will never participate in the ugliness of your regime!’ And when they shot me, it was the most magnificent I had ever been."
Blackmail is surprisingly difficult to pull off. The art lies in convincing the target that whatever harm they do themselves – for, by definition, you are compelling them rather than coaxing them into obedience – is less than the harm which will be caused by the revelation of the secrets in your power.
More often than not the blackmailer overplays their hand, and nothing is achieved except grief. A light touch and, more importantly, an understanding of when to back away is vital to achieve success.
Short of a society where religion obligated modesty, a Russian winter could do wonders for thwarting facial recognition.
"I don’t understand what drives you. You have wealth, time and the world at your feet, but all you do is push, push and keep on pushing at things which really don’t bother you."
In truth, my own words rang hollow in my ears. I spoke fine sentiments about participation in the world around us, and yet what was my participation to be?
“Linears only have one life,” she said at last, “and they don’t bother to change anything. It’s just not convenient. Some do. Some… ‘great’ men, or angry men, or men that have been beaten so low that all they have left to do is fight back and change the world. But, Harry, if there is one feature most common to ‘great’ men, it’s that they’re nearly always alone.”
“Only one thing surprises me any more,” she explained, “and that’s the things people admit when they’re pissed.”
I spent the long waiting hours sitting in the silence and the dark, reproaching myself for my lack of self-reproach. A self-defeating exercise, but even when the logical absurdity of my own thought processes became apparent to me, I was rather annoyed that even this slim manifestation of conscience was so intellectual.
Rationality, if not intellect, can still overwhelm alcohol when death is on the line.
Are you God, Dr August? Are you the only living creature that matters? Do you think, because you remember it, that your pain is bigger and more important? Do you think, because you experience it, that your life is the only life that gets counted?
Problem is, you’ve gone soft. You’ve got used to the comfy life, and the great thing about the comfy life is no one who has it is ever gonna risk rocking the boat. You should learn to live a little, rough it out –I’m telling you, there’s no greater high.”
Knowledge is not a substitute for ingenuity, merely an accelerant.
In another time, I felt, I would have enjoyed Soviet Dave’s company, and wondered just what stories lurked behind his polite veneer, to have made him a security man.
I waited with the light out in my room for the dead hour of the night when the mind shifts into a numb, timeless daze of voiceless thought.
The secret to being unafraid of the darkness is to challenge the darkness to fear you, to raise your eyes sharp to those few souls who stagger by, daring them to believe that you are not, in fact, more frightening than they are.
The doctrine I spouted was, in fact, absolutely correct for the times we lived in, but I had underestimated how quickly the times changed and, vitally, how much more important the interpretations of rivals were than the truth of what you said.
No one ever considers the question of bladder when dealing with matters of subterfuge.
Or when writing fiction...
Armies tend to exploit science faster than civilians, if only because their need tends to be more urgent.
I also believe that single-minded dedication to just one thing, without rest, respite or distraction, is only conducive to migraines, not productivity.
She was an Indian mystic, one of the first to realise that the most profitable way to be enlightened was to spread her enlightenment to concerned Westerners who hadn’t had enough cultural opportunities to nurture their cynicism.
I really need to start keeping notes about why I add books to my reading list. I'm pretty sure this was a book on some "You should read this" list, as the book is on a number of said lists.
When I first started reading the book, I connected with the Kushner's descriptions of San Francisco. Quickly I realized, however, that her San Francisco was definitely not my San Francisco, nor was the main characters's childhood. The names, places, streets, landmarks, yes, I recognized all of those. The drugs and goofing off and delinquency, not so much, and no.
Everyone's raving about the book, though.
The writing is engaging. The plot was slow, but wasn't a bad thing because the writing was good. The characters were interesting. I don't know, worth the hype, maybe? Would I recommend it? I can't say I would, but that's because the book is outside what I normally read and what I would recommend. It can still be worth reading.
I guess if you're looking for a fictionalized account of a woman's prison life, from the perspective of an innocent (in an objective, just world, one could call the crime she committed justified), this book is good. It triggers my "not fair!" button, along with a couple other buttons about human nature, redemption, loss, and justice. But it isn't a comedy, nor does it try to be funny, which makes it better than most fictionalized women's prison accounts.
Sometimes what other people want is wantable, briefly, before dissolving in the face of your own wants.
I sometimes think San Francisco is cursed. I mostly think it’s a sad suckville of a place. People say it’s beautiful, but the beauty is only visible to newcomers, and invisible to those who had to grow up there.
I have no plans at all. The thing is you keep existing whether you have a plan to do so or not, until you don’t exist, and then your plans are meaningless. But not having plans doesn’t mean I don’t have regrets.
We loved life more than the future.
I talk to the clerk at the comic book store, who told me what blue balls was (I was probably blue-balling him by asking).
Cracked me up.
And if someone did remember them, someone besides me, that person’s account would make them less real, because my memory of them would have to be corrected by facts, which are never considerate of what makes an impression, what stays in the mind after all these years, the very real images that grip me from the erased past and won’t let go.
That was what beauty was, he supposed, when someone’s face stirred feelings.
More typically, the good-looking ones were overly aware of their beauty. It was something to which they subjected others, a thing they hawked, bartered, and controlled.
The touch of this girl’s comb produced a feeling that was both terrific longing and something like longing fulfilled.
Most people talked to fill silence and didn’t know the damage they reaped.
He understood there were people who didn’t want to be the wanter, but he could not make himself feel that way.
A man could say every day that he wanted to change his life, was going to change it, and every day the lament became merely a part of the life he was already living, so that the desire for change was in fact a kind of stasis that allowed the unchanged life to continue, because at least the man knew to disapprove of it, which reassured him not all was lost.
People who tinkered with trucks and dirt bikes and made assumptions of Gordon that he did nothing to dispel, because he knew those assumptions would work in his favor if he needed their help.
Gordon withheld judgments. These people knew much more than he did about how to live in the mountains. How to survive winter and forest fires and mud flows from spring rains. How to properly stack wood, as Gordon’s neighbor from down the hill had patiently showed him, after his two cords of chunk wood were dumped in the driveway by a guy named Beaver who was missing most of his fingers.
She made it the usual way, with juice boxes poured into a plastic bag and mixed with ketchup packets, as sugar. A sock stuffed with bread, the yeast, was placed in the bag for several days of fermentation.
"The seventies is the end of good American cars. We used to make trucks in this country. Now we make truck nuts."
The idea that men would want to display an artificial scrotum—the most fragile part of a man’s body—on the back of their trucks, I said it made no sense and Conan agreed.
I knew to let them make their mistake. You never correct, because their wrong might be your right. You wait, see how it’s going to play, see if you are getting some angle from their fuck-up.
They were interested in having people to call, people who wanted something from them; it felt good to be pursued. It was a game to get attention. A game that was not a game because it was all they had.
Like in the dressing room at the Mars Room, you don’t give your real name. You don’t offer information. You don’t talk about yourself because there is nothing to be gained from it.
Men don’t holiday from their addictions. Holidays are busy, because the men need to escape from their real lives into their really real lives with us, their fantasies.
But she sulked a lot, and he realized quiet people can control you just as effectively as loud ones. They do it differently is all.
Things are more complicated than some can admit. People are stupider and less demonic than some can admit.
“It’s okay to make a promise," London said to Gordon, as if summarizing for the teacher how life actually worked, “but it’s not always a good idea to keep one."
I was forced to look at his tattoo, a chest-sized upside-down cross. “Got this to spite my brother," he said, his words thick from pain medication. “He’s a minister."
You sure showed him, I did not say.
The women paid extra attention to Gordon, not knowing already what the problem was with him, as they had already established with the other single men at that party, according to Alex.
The interaction brought back anxieties from grad school, the way his peers could casually criticize others they didn’t know anything about.
The women were doing that grad school thing of air-quoting to install distance between themselves and the words they chose, these bookish women with an awkwardness he used to find cute.
I could roam neighborhoods, visit my apartment in the Tenderloin, with the Murphy bed, my happy yellow Formica table, and above it, the movie poster of Steve McQueen in Bullitt. If you’re from SF, you love Bullitt and are proud because it was filmed there. Plus, Steve McQueen had been a delinquent kid who became a star but stayed cool, did his own stunt driving.
I had started helping Button with her homework for Hauser’s class. I took more pleasure in it than I would have guessed.
The singer, a barrel-chested baritone, launched into a song about a pulpwood hauler who demolished a roadside beer joint with a chain saw. Why did he do it? The song explained why. The pulpwood hauler did it because the bartender called him a redneck and refused to serve him a cold beer. So he destroyed the place.
He had in his mind something Nietzsche said about truth. That each man is entitled to as much of it as he can bear. Maybe Gordon was not seeking truth, but seeking to learn his own limits for tolerating it.
There were large-scale acts of it, the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians in a single year, for a specious war of lies and bungling, a war that might have no end, but according to prosecutors, the real monsters were teenagers like Button Sanchez.
After indulging in the difficult facts, he all at once grasped why these kids, Button and her friends, had killed the poor student and ruined their own lives. The student was not a person to them. That was the reason. They would not have harmed someone they knew was a full person. He was alien to them, his fluency in Mandarin something the kids never considered.
Racism and misogyny in a nutshell.
Remember this always, Alyosha says, and he means, as an antidote. Retain the innocence of the most wholesome feeling you ever had in your life. Part of you stays innocent forever. That part of you is worth more than the rest.
Looking at someone who is looking at you was a drug as strong as any other.
To stay sane, that was the thing. To stay sane you formed a version of yourself you could believe in.
Geronima, and Sanchez, and Candy, all of them were people who suffered and along the way of their suffering they made others suffer, and Gordon could not see that making them suffer lifelong would accrue to justice. It added new harm to old, and no dead person ever came back to life that he had heard about.
It was probably an improvident time to quit a job, with the economy tanking, but the rhythms of the world did not always coordinate with the rhythm of the person.
As I said it, I realized that he was luring me into the water, by suggesting he would end his life he was luring me to end mine.
There were women in San Francisco who rode motorcycles. This bothered him. Because women, how did they understand the physics of it. If you don’t get physics you can’t be in control of speed.
He could put her on the back, though. Teach her how to hold on tight, lean with him as he leaned. So many broads didn’t even know how to be a passenger, leaned the wrong way when he cornered.
This was from the misogynist part of the storyline.
Appropriately, I'd want to pipe this fictional character, too.
The life is the rails and I was in the mountains I dreamed of from the yard. I was in them, but nothing stays what you see from far away when you get up close.