One notable moment in the podcast is when Maron opens the book to a poem dedicated to Lindsay Lohan, and finds nothing but a titled on an otherwise blank page. He finds it very pessimistic, but Tamblyn doesn't agree. She says she's not willing to impose anything on Lohan (though to be fair, putting her name on the page sure does impose something, it's just a bit more open to interpretation, I think).
While Maron looks at that blank page as pessimistic — empty, devoid — I feel very optimistic about it. There's still a chance to write a whole story there — and not only that, but a new story, leaving a past behind.
Something I did recently was this. I compiled some of my blog posts, edited them a bit, and put them together in an ebook to sell on Amazon. It's called Resolutions for the Rest of the Year, and is meant to give you the tools to set and accomplish goals now that most people have given up their New Year's resolution.
Almost as important to me as putting the book together (it's short; go ahead and give it a shot, why not?) was the process. Let me tell you how I did it, so that you can do it, too.
First, I redeemed a coupon I had for Scrivener, an amazing $40 piece of software (that's without the coupon). It makes it really easy to organize a book, and will help you compile it for pretty much any format — Kindle, iBooks, hard cover, soft cover, PDF — and provides you with a bunch of tools for proofing and organizing research and putting together keywords to embed in electronic versions.
Next, because it's such a complete piece of software, I took advantage of a special on a Udemy course on Scrivener (at this writing there's not a special, but almost 20 hours, it's still a deal at $169 for Mac or Windows).
Then I put the actual product together. If you're going to try this, be honest with your self and understand that the software's easy enough to learn, putting the product together is the hardest work.
I did some searching for royalty-free art to turn into a cover (feel free to pay for some, too), put the cover together, spelled a word wrong, went back and did the cover again, and thanked my eyes for catching that.
Next, I signed up for Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon's Kindle publishing platform. It's a fairly simple process (it took about 15 minutes) to upload the book and cover, add some keywords, price it, confirm that I own the copyright on the book and click the submit button (which is the scariest part, but that was the goal of the whole project — pressing that submit button).
I sent that on a lunch break, about 2 a.m., and by the time I woke up about 10 a.m., I had a book on Amazon.
Tim Ferriss is, by now, well-known for the 4-hour franchise. His first book, The 4-Hour Workweek, was famously rejected by dozens of publishers before becoming an overwhelming hit, having been translated into thirty-something languages (as of this writing) and sending a lot of people into entrepreneurship.
That book was basically a collection of productivity hacks for people with a product to sell, giving them the opportunity to cut down drastically on the amount of work they had to do while keeping their revenue streams up.
The message for me from The 4-Hour Workweek that sticks, though, is not the main message of the book, which is essentially how to get rich while other people handle the tough work for you. It’s that it’s an instruction manual for stuff that Ferriss tried himself, using his own business to experiment on.
And so we pick up Ferriss’ second book, The 4-Hour Body, a 600-page book about changing your body. Ferriss writes about losing fat and gaining muscle, both quickly and over the long term, including doing so while more or less ignoring every dieting “rule” you’ve ever heard. He writes about having better sex. He writes about supplementation (read: drugs). He draws from the experiments he’s performed on himself (and a few other willing subjects).
That brings us to the punchline, about how this book really does change your life.
The takeaway: It’s OK to experiment on yourself.
Sure, it’s nice to have a physician available, especially if you don’t understand the chemistry at play in your body and in certain drugs. And if you are trying new stuff for the first time, having an urgent care or emergency medical facility nearby is a good thing (and maybe you want to have a ride available, just in case). But to be honest, while the body can be a fragile thing, it’s also really resilient, and it lets you know when you’re taking it too far through pain or other reactions (like swelling, for example).
But in general, you should really learn to be comfortable trying new things, and also observing how they affect you. This applies to food, activities, sleep and pretty much any part of life you want to apply it to.
To observe correctly, however, you must measure and document. Ferriss has done pretty much all the work for you. If you want to lose 2% body fat in two weeks, he’ll give you the shortcuts. If you want to put on 18 pounds tomorrow, he’ll let you know. But he also lets you know how to measure and document your progress, so you can see for yourself, and that’s the part of The 4-Hour Body that’s most interesting to me.
Why it’s important: It makes you the expert.
You don’t need a personal trainer, or a dietitian or a scientist. You record what you eat, you record how you feel, how it changes your weight, etc., and you do it again under the same conditions at another time to see if there were any extraneous factors (that is, to see if it’s replicable).
You would be the best expert on you, if you were to pay attention. And, the punchline here, is that you can extrapolate all you learn to other parts of life. The observation, data collection and other skills certainly translate outside of eating and running.
How to use it: Ferriss himself leaves instructions for how to use the book. Pick a couple of chapters that are relevant to you, and read those first. Utilize the tips. Do your experimenting. Then read the rest of the book if it’s interesting to you.
I've just read two books back-to-back that largely teach about intuition. This wasn't intentional; I picked one ebook up while it happened to be free, and I just happened to be reading at it the same time I visited the library and picked out another book based solely on its title.
They both happened to be about the same thing, so maybe it was the universe just telling me I need to listen to my gut more.
The first was Trialogue by Colin Wright, still a deal at $2.99, by the way. It's about a small-town guy, working a dead-end job, generally being miserable, and then one day they're filming a movie in town.
The long and short of it is this: He manages to escape from his tedious life as part of the crew, thanks to the movie star. There's something sinister afoot, too, but I'll leave that bit to your reading. The important lesson here is that our protagonist does really well in the industry by listening to an internal voice tell him how these things work.
It's his intuition that directs him, and he chooses to listen to that and it helps.
OK, so that was a novel, but the other book I read recently was Mind Reader, by Lior Suchard, that guy up at the top irritating Jay Leno and freaking out Kim Kardashian.
He writes about intuition as well, and specifically about the appearance in the video – he was looking for something to do on the show that was different from his previous appearance, and a few days before the appearance he learned he would appear with Kim Kardashian and boom! his intuition gave him the answer.
The lesson here is listen to that voice inside you. It knows something.
Here are a couple of take-aways we can apply to everyday life.
Touch. Watching the dog sniff around, I know that he understands his world by smell. If he doesn't recognize a smell, he'll taste or touch, and if he can't figure out the origin of the smell, he'll look around for it. I've thought, though, that in the way that he understands his world by smell, we understand by sight. I was wrong. We understand by touch. A tiger doesn't appear dangerous if you don't know what torn flesh feels like, but once you know what that the touch brought by a tiger is dangerous, you only have to perceive a tiger is present to get the hell out of Dodge. You're unlikely to stick around until it bites you to find out if it's a hologram or even just an audio recording.
Similarly, we only understand a coffee table's utility because we touch it and place something upon it; if we merely see it, it's useless to us – it could just as easily be a reflection in a mirror if we don't touch it.
Your starting point is arbitrary. You can start from wherever you want, or more accurately, you can call your starting point whatever you want to call it. We generally start counting at 1, but we could start at 496 with the same consequence. If you're walking 15 yards, you can start at 0 and get arrive at 15 yards, or you can start at 7,236 yards and arrive at 7,251 yards and have traversed the same distance.
Apply this to your life; let's say you're broke and want to make $1,000,000. You can call your zero point $1,000,000 and have the goal of reaching $2,000,000, as long as you understand your scale in relation to the scale everyone else uses. That sounds like a useful self-confidence boost.
Sun Tzu's The Art of War has long been a manual for field battle, and, for not quite as long, a manual for management in the business world and even sales. But reading it recently, this is what stood out to me:
7. There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard.
8. There are not more than five primary colors (blue, yellow, red, white, and black), yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.
9. There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted
We have, of course, found notes beyond the pentatonic (though not many), and now understand white and black not as primary colors but as, respectively, the combination of all colors and the absence of all color.
But take this point to heart. All of the wonderful variety in life can be drilled down to a few basic attributes. When these simple attributes are combined in various ratios, we get all the beauty in the world. Start with small pieces, and let it grow.
I'm an occasional admirer of Irvine Welsh's work. Not occasional as in, "some of his stuff's OK;" more like occasional as in, "OK, it's been a while. I think it's time to read another Irvine Welsh novel."
Our protagonist, Ray Lennox, is a cop on vacation in Miami Beach after finally helping bring down a serial pedophile/murderer. He's in recovery — again — from a cocaine habit and needs some time away to plan his wedding with his bride-to-be, Trudi.
But Lennox gets off his anti-anxiety medication and falls off the wagon for just one night — and finds himself single-handedly trying to bring down a child sex ring on this side of the pond.
Crime is paced a whole lot slower than Trainspotting or Skagboys – it moves at a speed that allows Welsh to develop his characters, and create dialogue that's a lot less frantic than his most famous works.
Author Matthew Parker is old for his age, but getting younger. He grew up with a mother who taught him how to sell drugs and didn't go straight until she made some counterfeit bills and discovered they were awful. His sister managed to build a good life, but one of his brothers was murdered and the other committed suicide.
Parker himself was in and out of prisons from 1987 until 2002, when he finally got clean. And then he got his MFA in creative writing from Columbia.
Larceny In My Blood follows Parker through life, through finding his way through the culture of prison, and trying and failing and trying and failing and trying and finally succeeding in kicking drugs. Parker elucidates the problems felons have finding work, enrolling in schools and earning trust.
Parker has been off drugs and out of prison since 2002, and has had quite a journey, and is off to a flying start to his writing career. Larceny is a tough book – it's about prison and drugs and sex and real life (and Parker drew his penis a lot for the book) – and while the timeline bounces around a little bit, it was a great read. It's one of those pieces of art that will always stick with me, like Benjamin Bratt's portrayal of Miguel Piñero or the first time I really took the time to look at Picasso's Guernica.
If you've not been to the city of Savannah, Georgia, I can't recommend it enough. It's antebellum south – that is, it was built before the Civil War, and it's progressing in the small business and craft movement. The original city was built on a grid around a series of squares – in-neighborhood parks – that range in size from a couple of live oak trees with a half dozen benches to Forsyth at the south, with a fountain and a theater space and a cafe and plenty of space to run, play some pickup soccer or what have you.
It has a river running through it (the convention center is on the opposite bank from much of the old city, and a ferry will swing you across so you don't need to drive the bridge back and forth), and most of its eastern suburbs are islands.
Literary novelist John Jakes writes a lot of historical fiction, and his Savannah is such a book. It takes place around Christmas, 1864, as Sherman is marching from Atlanta, torching cities along the way, headed for Charleston via Savannah (Charleston, S.C., is about an hour and a half up the freeway – they would have approached by water). Its protagonists are a 12-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy; he heads to the front lines, she is a rebellious sort – the kind of rebel who kicks a Yankee in the shin and runs off yelling, "I don't care if I just kicked Sherman himself!" When, in fact, she did.
The book includes some personal exploration as regards slavery, lots of Yankee-Rebel relationships and, of course, there's war, thievery and Christmas.
My favorite historical bit, though, was something about Christmas. By the 1860s, Christmas was starting to become more popular, but the most conservative people still considered a slave holiday, instead exchanging gifts on New Year's Day. Stores were non-committal, selling "holiday" gifts instead. Sound familiar?
It's a very fast, easy read, and my local library appears to have plenty of Jakes' stuff on its shelves, so I'll be reading more this year.
Need some reading recommendations? These are the books I read in 2013.
• Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
• Damned, Chuck Palahniuk
• High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
• Republic, Plato
• The Holy or the Broken, Alan Light
• A Day in the Life of a Minimalist, Joshua Fields Millburn
• Triburbia, Karl Taro Greenfield
• Electric Barracuda, Tim Dorsey
• The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells
• Naked, David Sedaris
• What in God's Name, Simon Rich
• When Elves Attack, Tim Dorsey
• Skagboys, Irvine Welsh
• The Prisoner of Heaven, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
• A Walk in the Snark, Rachel Thompson
• Night, Elie Wiesel
• It's Not About the Tights, Chris Brogan
• How I Killed Pluto and Why it Had it Coming, Mike Brown
• Relativity, Albert Einstein
• Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, Richard Feynman
• CTRL ALT Delete, Mitch Joel
• Born Standing Up, Steve Martin
• Possible Side Effects, Augusten Burroughs
• Choose Yourself!, James Altucher
• Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, David Sedaris
• Born on a Blue Day, Daniel Tammet
• Walden, Henry David Thoreau
• Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau
• A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
• I Was Told There'd Be Cake, Sloane Crosley
• Ignorance, Stuart Firestein
• Dubliners, James Joyce
• Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, R. Buckminster Fuller
• Confessions of a Sociopath, M.E. Thomas
• Growth Hacker Marketing, Ryan Holiday
• Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
• The Indie Writer's Survival Guide, James O'Brien
• The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, Charlie Papazian