transparency to life

The 32 Books I Read in 2023

on Jan 1, 2024

  • Main concept is that we should stay within a goldilocks zone.
  • Don’t use too many resources (going outside the doughnut) as it will strain the ecology.
  • Don’t let people have so few resources (going inside the doughnut hole) prevent social decline.
  • Piece is rather idealistic and has no considerations for how the world is set up by incentives and power structures.

  • Audiobook version, read by author – comes off a bit pretentious but the content is solid and extensive.
  • India was the world’s knowledge and economical powerhouse until Britain showed up and took control by force.
  • Britain was essentially a 300 year parasite and left an eviscerated India.
  • Author breaks down in detail every argument suggesting that Britain did good for India.
  • I wholly disagree with the author’s claim that it would be impractical for Britain to do reparations and thus they shouldn’t.
  • Premise is a therapist who herself ends up going to therapy after major life event.
  • Interesting look at the process of how therapists work and the boundaries they need to create.
  • The firsthand account of an individual who survived years in Nazi concentration camps.
  • The real gem is how he managed to survive despite losing everything in his life including his family and life’s work, and while everyone else around him was not making it through.
  • I read this as mental prep prior to the 24h race, and it proved very helpful.
  • To be honest, I don’t recall much of this book.
  • Felt less practical and more theoretical, which might be because this comes from an artist’s perspective.
  • Audiobook version, read by the author. Sometimes he seemed like a overexcited presenter, almost yelling.
  • I met the author on a ski lift in Telluride and subsequently found his book.
  • A bunch of psychotherapeutic principles focusing on a bunch of learned childhood coping mechanism lead to maladaptive adult behaviors.
  • These past issues need to be resolved, through understanding, separating the child you from the adult you, and forgiving the child you.

  • My favorite piece of the year.
  • A look at how India has rebuilt itself from the mess that Britain has left, and is now actually a place worth living (unlike the hellhole it was when my parents lived there from the 50s to the 80s)
  • Fascinating look at the growing pains involved and the tension between the old ways and the new ways, and how each prevails.
  • Lots of specific stories from the rise of business to the different family structures within a greater family, and how those operations differ within themselves.

  • The story, principles, and philosophy of a Japanese farming master.
  • Main idea is that less is more and that we should let nature run its course with minimal involvement.
  • Principles apply beyond farming, like more complexity might create more yield but then it begets more cost and then more complexity and so on.
  • I feel this book is poorly named, as it refers to straw as in farming and not drinking straws.

  • Basically how we millennials got screwed as a generation with chapters looking at tricking us to go to college at great finacial expense, fooling us into “doing what we love” at our expense, creating tech and culture that expects us to work all the time, and making things even more impossible when one has kids.
  • My big takeaway from this is that the world is way more complicated than it ever has been and that this feeling of being overwhelmed all the time can be seen as an external force and not a personal failing.

  • Audiobook version, read by the author and is not for the feint of spirit.
  • This book is two big things: how the whole concept of wellness has been co-opted by capitalism, and the author’s own story of trying to be well growing up in a household with a mentally ill and abusive mother.
  • The whole wellness industrial complex primarily benefits the wealthy, the white, and the men.
  • I really appreciated the author laying out that the USA tried to patent turmeric in the 90s and India actually fought back and won.

  • Audiobook version, is a long one but covers a lot of ground.
  • Really interesting look at American history (leading up to current circumstances) of “greater” territories under US control in the past and today.
  • Chapters based on various territories and the author shows a pattern of the US claiming territories (but not giving rights to its people) as they became politically advantageous, and then “freeing” them when they were no longer useful.
  • Particularly fascinating explanations for how Japanese came to dominate electronics and cars but caters to the American market, why we have so many Filipino nurses, and how the US’s push to have military bases in the Middle East consequently created Al Qaeda.

  • Collection of short stories and damn they’re incredibly good.
  • Every story’s characters are of Asian origin.
  • Many of the stories are based on untold stories, like of the mass Chinese immigration of the Rockies.
  • Some are sci-fi.
  • Some of them will make you cry.

  • A pushback on the whole highly work oriented culture we’ve found ourselves in.
  • Looks at the history of capitalism, noting its roots in slavery, and showing how this is not a natural thing but something more recent in human history.
  • Really stresses the fact that we can exist just to exist, and that this whole notion of purpose and productivity is made to make us work and continue to push the system.
  • This piece seemed rather disorganized and repetitive but it’s a quick read and the content is well worth it.
  • Audiobook version.
  • Main principle is that we’re in a winner-take-all world and that if everyone went for “good enough” instead, then we’d collectively be better off.
  • While the author acknowledged socioeconomic forces (e.g. race and history of colonialism affecting power structures), they seemed more like an afterthought or cover your ass, and he didn’t go into it further.
  • Not a particularly memorable piece.
  • Audiobook version, read by the author.
  • A look at the various forms of addiction in our society from weed to porn to social media.
  • Author goes into how addictions work and why they’re so persistent.
  • Piece felt rather cursory and didn’t go into as much depth of practical solutions or breadth of addiction types as I would have liked. Felt like I was waiting for something that never materialized.
  • An absolutely masterpiece and systematic understanding of love and what’s improperly categorized as love across many dimensions.
  • Notable chapters include on how kids incorrectly perceive parental love in what they provide, love to oneself through honesty, love through commitment.
  • A must read if you’re a human.

  • Primarily a harrowing account of the author growing up as a high achieving Indian American in a household of pressure and abuse of power.
  • Much for me to relate to with this, but the author’s story is especially a harrowing one.
  • Reads very quick as it’s incredibly engaging.

  • Audiobook version
  • Basically why America has so much poverty and continues to do so.
  • Very evidenced focused like an academic piece but well written so it’s easy to understand.
  • A lot about how the poor get screwed in every way, simply for being poor, from losing money to cash paychecks to having to jump through hoops for social services.
  • Author does a good job factoring in socioeconomic factors like race.

  • The principles of All About Love applied to men specifically
  • Terrific explanations of why it’s so hard for men to love, to express themselves, in any way other than anger.
  • I found a lot to relate to in this.
  • Some very interesting takes on how parts of the feminism movement end up exacerbating the very problem they claim to want to solve, by going for perfection over understanding.
  • Audiobook version, narrated in a highly and appropriately entertaining manner.
  • A wacky, satirical, and over-the-top perspective poking fun at the LA acting scene as it pertains to Asians and how typecasting really screws them.
  • Very quick and enjoyable listen.

  • A look at how the Japanese, specifically those on an particular island, live extremely long lives.
  • Certain basic principles like fresh food, enmeshment in community, and low-stress purposeful lives are essential.
  • This piece seemed like it was really stretching to get info and even had some absurd overly detailed meditation segment in the middle that didn’t really fit.

  • A stunningly helpful guide to someone pursuing their art, and most of the chapters focus on principles, concepts, and actions that can be generalized to things beyond writing.
  • There were sections where I could literally replace “writing” with “skating” and I found it incredibly relevant for expanding the the artistic process of my skating.
  • Chapters are based on specific principles like creating a practice, addressing sabotage, dealing with roadblocks and setbacks, and avoiding burnout.

  • Fun little book with one issue a page and dealing with letting it go.
  • Seemed more interesting at a glance and less practical in the actual details.
  • Audiobook version, and the narration is terrific.
  • A beautiful story spanning about a Dominican family in NYC, spanning multiple generations, with most of the characters being women.
  • Some of the characters have special powers so it’s kind of feels like Encanto but in a much more nuanced and deeper manner.
  • The storytelling is good and jumps from character to character, and across time going back and forth.

  • Audiobook version, narrated by the author.
  • Very short piece by a Asian trans woman, discussing her emotions and feelings and perspectives, with each chapter being a letter to someone.
  • The letters are about expressing love, and the recipients range from those special to the author to those that are enemies.
  • The piece is emotionally read, in some cases a bit too much so for my liking, but overall great.

  • My favorite piece so far by this Buddhist monk.
  • This piece recycles what the author often states about mindfulness, specifically towards the emotion of anger, where it’s rather apt.
  • What’s particularly interesting about this piece is that it had much to say and suggest to the recipient of said anger (usually a partner), as they play an integral role in addressing this emotion.

  • Audiobook version, entertainingly read by the author.
  • A memoir of the author’s life growing up in South Africa, during and after apartheid, as a child that didn’t fit in anywhere racially.
  • His stories are wild, over-the-top, entertaining, grim, full of wisdom, and is very well presented.

  • Audiobook version, read by the author.
  • A coming of age story of a Colombian American millennial, focusing primarily on her 20s.
  • The story involved the calling off of one wedding and career, a theme of travel / exploration, and and the angst of the major life decisions that come with it.
  • Another piece by this wisdom filled Buddhist monk.
  • This piece is more about using the “negative” in ones life to fuel to the positive.
  • A lot about perspective consideration here (others have it worse) and practical ways to deal with negative emotions and thinking (hint: don’t hide them or pretend everything is fine).
  • Audiobook version, read by the author.
  • This is basically three books in one, where the author explores the history, legal forces, cultural forces, and his personal experiences with things from three plants that can also be seen as drugs: opium, caffeine, and mescaline.
  • As with his other books, the storytelling is rich and personal, and the context for history and legality and culture well researched.
  • I’m a little annoyed for his admitted lack of respect for Indigenous boundaries on the white man on their sacred plants.

  • Audiobook version, read honestly, emotionally, and entertainingly by the author.
  • The author’s story is wild, outrageous, and full of emotion, as she dealt with nearly dying at birth, the early death of her father, and a strong willed mother that pushed her into judo.
  • As a martial artist and professional skater, I really appreciated her discussion of her extensive training and the hard life she had to balance alongside it.
  • There’s so much in these stories from fun stuff to sadness to real-deal wisdom.
  • A structure for love that’s centered on romantic but extends to self love and community / world love as well.
  • The author uses psychotherapeutic principles blended with Vedic concepts to come up with 8 general rules.
  • The early chapters start with self love, as that’s a foundation needed for other forms. Later chapters go into creating romantic love, addressing relationship conflicts, and even dealing with a breakup.
  • Overall the concepts are rather practical and straightforward and useful.

Living My Best Life

on Apr 14, 2021

I’ve had many friends tell me that they enjoy following my story online of “living [my] best life”. It’s funny how what started off as just showing off cool stuff I was doing ended up creating inspiration for others. But there’s yet another reason for why I share what I share. Simply put, many people in our country, including South Asian Americans such as myself, don’t necessarily have the opportunity to live our best lives; and my being able to do so has meant a hell of a lot of subversion of the forces that hold so many of us down. I could probably write a book – and I probably will one day – on the story of how I worked around every obstacle to get to a high place. But today I just want to share a little bit about the circumstances that make my “best life” an even more astounding celebration.

Despite being born and raised in the US, there have been so many circumstances or pursuits where I felt I did not belong. There was some default culture, some way to act, and way one had to look; and my way of being did not line up with that.

There’s this notion that one must either segregate or assimilate. My parents fell into the former camp, telling me not to act like “those American people” (was I not American?). Meanwhile for the longest time I fell into the latter camp because most of the world I was surrounded by – and where the opportunities were – was filled with people who didn’t look like me (e.g. teachers, police officers, athletes, movie stars). So I felt I had to adopt a certain way of being in order to access these opportunities. But both segregation and assimilation are ill conceived as each assumes that one class is better than another. The true way forward is to have access to opportunities without having to either live a double life or give up parts of one’s being.

The model minority myth that we (South Asians East Asians, West Africans, etc.) are subjected to is at its core a damn fucked up deal. In essence, the powers that be offer us some semblance of a successful and stable life as worker bees in the white collar world (e.g. tech, banking, healthcare, academia). But in return we accept artificial boundaries and give up any notion of visibility: we must remain quiet, complicit across the board (and putting down other minorities), and we rarely make it to the top or positions of power.

The exception that proves the rule is if a “minority” grew up as part of the dominant class, such as Indian born Hindus (e.g. CEOs Satya Nadella of Microsoft and Sundar Pichai of Google). But it’s worth noting that these “dominant class” CEOs still get the typical minority treatment when it comes to media coverage.

Most of the early successes in my life were a result of the twin powers of embracing model minority stereotypes and assimilation. I was good at math and computers and known to be a hard worker. And friends told me that I was “very well spoken”, that I was “the least Indian Indian”, that they “did not see me as a person of color”, and that I apparently “acted very white”. It’s hard to unravel how much of my transformation was intentional vs subconscious, but either way, it seemed the best way forward to live a potential best life. And of course it came at the cost of hiding away who I really was.

However, later successes were hard to come by. It was as if I was suddenly running into walls and limitations. The professional working world didn’t like individuals that wanted to be, well, individuals, as opposed to cogs in a machine. And the athletics world wasn’t keen on having a small and skinny, brown dude, no matter how proficient and capable I was. All this was the other half of the devil’s deal. In a nutshell, the powers that be wanted our labor, but not our lives.

Imperialism and the exploitative capitalism that fuel it are at the heart of why people like myself are in this situation. The imperialists for centuries fucked up places liked India, making that world barren of opportunities and forcing people like my parents to come out to America for a better life (while also signing the model minority bad deal). I am here because the imperialists were there.

So who are these “powers that be”? Well it’s a system that resides in all of us, stronger in some over others. Some call it white supremacy, though I believe that’s a misleading term because although most of the beneficiaries of the system are white (or acting white), white supremacy not only screws over brown and black people, but it also screws over most white people. The powers that be tell us to fight amongst ourselves while the primary beneficiaries – who are generally elite and rich – continue to exploit the rest of us. And while it’s likely that many of them are unaware that they’re perpetuating a revolting system, the rest of us are just as unaware that we are too.

I present this all as food for thought. To take a moment to reflect and introspect. That no matter what you are – brown, black, white, rich, poor, born here, immigrant – we’re furthering something that keeps ourselves and others from living our best lives. And how we can at least start to be aware of our role in order to break that cycle.

As for the story of how I squirreled my way as best I can to subvert this damned system in all manners possible – it’s a story involving unconventional action, plenty of personal risk, and a whole lot of privilege. But that’s a story for another day.

Decolonizing My Reading List: 31 Books I Read in 2020

on Jan 25, 2021

For my 2020 reading endeavors, I set a special goal to DECOLONIZE my reading list, especially upon realizing that most of the 43 books I read in 2019 happened to be written by straight, cis, white men. So despite considering books to be my most valuable source of information, especially in our wonky news media world, it also seemed that this source of knowledge was rather biased as it lacked the voice and perspectives of women, people of color, and those from other marginalized groups of people – rather ironic as I myself fall into this category.

So for 2020, in order to expand the scope of authors I was exposed to, I made a rule to simply exclude one category of authors: cis, straight, white men. And it turned out that it’s not easy to get around an overrepresented and dominant group. But I managed by expanding beyond my typical genres of sciences and personal development to other forms of writing, including fiction and memoirs, totaling 31 books for the year. And what I found in this new assortment of authors was nothing short of an incredible richness in storytelling, setting, and perspective. And despite being engulfed in a greater breadth of new worlds and narratives, for the first time I felt rather comfortable in these spaces. Simply because the voices sounded a lot like my own. That the subconscious feeling of alienation, as a person from a marginalized background, didn’t apply anymore as I was among others like me. What a discovery!

Below’s the near full list of books in the order I read them (I left off two as they were of a very personal nature). And some quick stats regarding these 29 books:
– 8 authors of South Asian descent
– 10 authors of East Asian descent
– 8 authors are African American
– 18 (more than half) by women
– 20 were fiction

Educated, by Tara Westover

This book is a stunner and gripping one. It’s the story of a woman who grew up in the Idahoan mountainside in a household that held deep survivalist and conservative beliefs. Due to her father’s mistrust of institutions, she and all of her six siblings hardly attended school if at all and had all medical issues treated with herbalism at home. The real kicker is that this book is a memoir – reality is stranger than fiction for sure – and left me astounded in so many ways. For one, how everyone remained alive given the lack of medical treatment especially as much of the family did scrap metal and construction work through methods that would give an OSHA supervisor a heart attack. But more so that there’s so many relatable themes to unpack and digest: a power dynamic where the word of the father is law; choosing between one’s family and one’s future; contrasting family values against being “normal”; mental health and abuse; and especially what goes on in the mind of women in a world where men have all the power. This piece marvelously captivating, profoundly vulnerable, and poetically written.

The Majesties, by Tiffany Tsao

This novel appears cast as the dark side behind something of a “Crazy Rich Asians” story as it’s about an extended family consisting of ultra wealthy Chinese living in Indonesia. However, it goes so much deeper (well at least compared to the movie as I haven’t yet read the “Crazy Rich Asians” book series). The story centers on two sisters and is told from the perspective of one of them as she slingshots through memories across various points in time to slowly unravel the path their lives took leading to an ultimately tragic moment. The author delves into a number of themes including domestic abuse and the power structures women are relegated to, classism and racism, balancing family desires against ones own, and finding oneself too deep into a situation with no way out. Some readers might argue that the overall story falls a bit flat and while I wouldn’t disagree, I also don’t think it matters as the details in the themes are well drawn out gems. Either way, I couldn’t put this book down as it left me hungry for more and more.

The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga (audiobook version)

I found this novel to be endlessly entertaining, while at the same time very revealing and “educational” about many aspects of modern Indian culture. The piece is a story, in the form of letters to a Chinese leader, told by a self-made Indian man who rose from the lowly village life to become a successful businessman. This story in a sense is familiar one driving at classism – the haves and the have-nots and how the latter must serve the former – but the twist is the main character’s attitude towards it all. He’s matter of fact, rather accepting of the state of the system, and unemotional about his treatment or his callous means of rising up. It paints quite a stark and critical picture of the state of class in India. And I, as someone of Indian descent and having had a great deal of exposure to the culture, I find the stories, as well as the main character’s candid demeanor, completely unsurprising. The contradiction between these two things really makes the piece work – the obscene disparity in wealth with the straightforward description of the world – and creates for entertainment at a WTF level.
One thing to note about the audiobook version is that it is read by a white dude and he speaks in an Indian accent. Normally I’d be a bit weirded out by this as it often sounds like Apu, but the voice acting is surprisingly well suited for the character and does not appear demeaning whatsoever.

Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, by Peggy Orenstein

I picked up this book after reading a terrific excerpt from the author’s then upcoming book, “Boys and Sex”. Simply put, this book explores the world that girls and young women find themselves in and it’s a challenging one, as revealed by the 70+ interviews conducted by the author. Most if not all find themselves held to a double standard – either you’re loose or you’re a prude. And it’s a world where boys and men generally hold power and get what they want while girls and young women are often left embarrassed or taken advantage of – starting as early as middle school and especially notable during college years with the frat party culture. The author does well to point out and challenge our many social constructs, which are rather arbitrary and unfair – like what constitutes sex or virginity. While the material is enlightening, there’s a a major caveat to consider: most of the girls and young women interviewed are white and from upper or middle class families (which the author does acknowledge), so there’s a lot of missing voices and only one culture is shown. I imagine different groups of people of color would show very different experiences. I also feel that the author gives an impression, in a bit of a sensationalized manner, that everyone is engaging in very sexual behavior, when there’s likely many people that are non-actors and essentially ignoring this sexual culture. That said, it’s worth noting that pretty much every girl or young woman faces the pressures noted in the book. Lastly, the book ends on an encouraging note: that it’s very possible to teach girls and especially boys – at a young age – that they can create a better and more fair culture that can bring everyone more joy.

Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change, by Ellen Pao

If you’re a man reading about the trials (including a literal trial) and tribulations of an Asian American woman that simply wants her fair share for the exorbitant work she put into her career and for her employers, you will be left aghast by this author’s story. If you’re a woman with even a sliver of career experience, you’re likely to say “Yeah, what’s the big surprise here?” The author’s story told here is a familiar one to any woman with career ambition. She, an extremely accomplished and talented person, faces obstacles, roadblocks, harassment, false promises, and retaliation across a number of jobs in the tech field, with the story culminating with an unfortunate loss of a major lawsuit where she was simply outgunned. If you’re not pissed off reading the author’s words, then you’re part of a problem I’ve seen all too often in the tech world and beyond. While the author’s recounting feels as grim as it is revealing, she does lead us to some positive light between the culture changes she did manage to establish at one company, her own new organization to empower women, and the spark of movements generated by her story. There is one inconsistency in this piece, and that is that the author repeatedly points out that the tech company culture not only mistreats women, but also people of color – yet some of the bad actors she described happened to be male people of color. My explanation of this inconsistency, as a male person of color that works in tech, is that we too are screwed over, and those of us that absorb the bad culture tend to be the most visible when it comes to the negative behavior, while the white men at the top conduct their mistreatments in a very opaque and indirect manner. All that said, this book is powerful and well worth a read.

Push, by Sapphire

This novel, set in 1980s Harlem, is the story of a 17 year old black girl named Precious and told from her perspective. And given her circumstances, you’ll feel mightily privileged about your life in comparison. Precious grew up poor while being repeatedly raped by her father and disregarded by a mother who lives on welfare. The story starts with Precious pregnant by her father for the second time, recently kicked out of school, but about to embark on a journey that has the potential to transform her life. This piece is raw and the writing style makes no concessions in softening realities. And while this book is a work of fiction, what transpires could easily be pulled out of the history books we’d never read in our biased schooling. This piece is a short, quick, and easy read, and is the basis for the well received film “Precious”. The last few pages of the book contain a surprise that hits hard, making the piece seem like not one story but half a dozen. Definitely worth checking out.

The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai (audiobook version)

This novel is a grim one from start to finish. Set in Northeast India (bordering Nepal) and New York City in 1986 with a historical backdrop of political unrest, it follows the lives of a handful of interconnected characters primarily of Indian descent, ping ponging between them. The characters are complex – some anglicised, others politicized as illegal immigrants or freedom fighters – and they each grapple with a changed and changing world brought forth by colonialism. The internal battles include the modern vs the old, identity, and generations of loss. The book is fair game for everyone – South Asians will find commonality in the struggles while seeing deeper issues while everyone else will receive a great exposure to the plight and impact of colonialism. I highly recommend the audio book version as it’s read by an actress of South Asian descent who pronounces everything correctly (those that are Gujarati like myself will appreciate many specific words) and does a marvelous job acting out the different characters.

Tar Baby, by Toni Morrison

I’d first read this novel in college for a class, and recently circled back to read more of the author’s work, as she’s masterful in her writing and especially so at conveying the perspective of black people. This piece centers around a number of characters including a black husband and wife couple, their niece, the white couple that they’ve worked for their entire lives, and a fugitive man. Morrison weaves in a number of themes involving obligation and betrayal between masters/servants, family/partners, and race/identity. Reading this story really popped this time around because in my naivety during college years, I’d considered much of the story very fictional and dramatized. But having since understood a greater depth of the history of race in America, I’ve come to realize that the events in this work of fiction undeniably could have played out as such in real life. The only qualm I feel with this work is that it felt like many of the important themes remained unexposed until too far into the story, but then again my ignorance may be keeping parts hidden still. Either way, the character portrayals are meticulous in their representations and that is more than plenty reason to check out novel. I look forward to reading more of Morrison’s work in the near future.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong (audiobook version)

101620875_10104177327524114_6372908849968319669_oThis work cannot be considered anything less than a masterpiece. It is composed as the letter written by a son to his mother and reminiscent of the powerful “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which was written as a letter from a father to his son. While this piece is technically fiction, it lines up closely with the Vuong’s own story – a gay, Vietnamese-American individual raised by his mother who’s a manicurist and his grandmother, with all settling in Hartford, Connecticut. Vuong is known for being a masterful poet, so it’s no surprise that this work feels like one magnificent poem from start to finish with an incredible use of words and especially metaphor. The story will wrench at you in all directions as Vuong conveys many lives – his mother’s exhausting day to day hardship, his grandmother’s plights – from early life, the Vietnam War, and death by cancer – his white male lover’s dealings with drug addiction, and of course the main character’s coming of age as an immigrant child growing up in America. I highly recommend the audiobook version, as it is evocatively read by Vuong himself.

Shanghai Girls, by Lisa See

This novel centers on two sisters – told from the perspective of one of them – beginning in 1937 Shanghai. Their cosmopolitan life as young adults takes a turn as they’re arranged to be married off in order to repay their father’s gambling debts, and soon after war reaches shore. The story traces the trials and tribulations that follow: escaping certain doom, navigating an unjust American immigration system, and making a life as immigrants in a country that takes advantage of Chinese immigrants and thwarts their options for opportunity through discrimination and mistreatment through a multitude of ways. This is a work of historical fiction with a strong dose of historical backdrops including the Second Sino-Japanese War, internment practices at Angel Island, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and McCarthyism. Conversely, the story told could easily pass as a true one and is fact based on elements from interviews that the author, See, conducted on people that lived through these historical events. The narrative itself is very riveting and I could not put this book down. Several developed themes stood out to me: that men’s actions caused much harm to women, that immigrant families had complex dynamics due to strategies they needed to employ to survive in discriminatory America, and the constant fight for a better future. Highly recommended.

Dreams of Joy, by Lisa See

This novel is the sequel to my previous read, “Shanghai Girls”, which unexpectedly ended with a cliffhanger. It once again features two main characters, including the narrator of the previous book, Pearl, and this time her young adult daughter, Joy – with the narration alternating between the two of them. The story takes place in Mao’s China, situating itself alike between Shanghai and the village countryside. And while this historical fiction piece is bit more on the fiction side compared to its predecessor, there’s still plenty of historical backdrop. This includes the obstacles the characters must cleverly work around in a communist society (sending hidden messages across waters and getting across borders), the ironic social stratification that arose with this government structure (most people had little while leaders were very well off), and the dire consequences of the Mao’s ill-guided Great Leap Forward (mass death due to starvation). The author, See, does a wonderful job weaving this all together in a manner that includes a great deal of character development and I couldn’t help but keep reading to find out what happens next. There’s solid connections with the previous book as themes are artfully mirrored and mysterious loose ends surprisingly get tied up.

Exhalation: Stories, by Ted Chiang (audiobook version)

This work is a collection of science fiction stories ranging from very short – mere minutes – to lengthy – a few hours – with an appeal that’s broader than what’s typical for the sci-fi genre. In each story the author, Chiang, blends a concept of science or technology with culture, ethics, religion, faith, and/or fate, and leaves you truly thinking about the consequences in that world and how they relate to our own. The first story explores time travel in a universe where everything is predetermined with a surprisingly well-suited backdrop of Islamic faith. Another story explores the ethics of raising digital lifeforms. Yet another correlates the principle of entropy to an ever losing battle to sustain what gives us life. Another looks at how science’s great purpose is to reveal the work of an almighty creator. The final story explores the ability to communicate across multiverses and one’s alternative selves. There’s plenty more stories in between and oftentimes leave me wanting more. They’re just all so damn good. Following most of the stories, we also get a little brief from the author on the inspiration behind them. I found the audiobook version very enjoyable as the stories are read by what appear to be professional voice actors. And if you do choose to listen to it, I recommend doing so alongside a loved one or friend, as you’ll certainly want someone to talk to about what transpires.

How To Be Less Stupid About Race, by Crystal M. Fleming, PhD

As you might guess from the title, this book holds back no punches. And the author has the power to back them given that she’s earned degrees at Wellesley and Harvard, and is currently a professor at my alma mater, Stony Brook University. Ironically though, the author, Fleming, points out that this “liberal” education did little to teach her about race, and is instead part of the greater problem. So with that in mind, it might come as a surprise to you that those of a liberal bent are an especially appropriate audience for this work, more so I’d say than the often called racist conservatives. This book starts especially strong, laying out all sorts of fallacies – used by those across the entire political spectrum – right from the get go. Fleming then focuses on a particular issue of race in each chapter. One chapter discusses how black women have had and continue to have their voice put down by everyone else, especially white and non-black POC women. Another is particularly revealing on how Obama served as a perfect token to carry out the structural racism behind the scenes while giving its beneficiaries, especially liberal elites, something to feel good about. Yet another strong chapter discusses how the media contributes in its own ways to structural racism, with particular callouts against The New York Times. Another chapter delves into one’s racism while being partnered with someone from a marginalized race. I connected strongly with the author’s background as much like myself, she had enough privilege and opportunities to rise through the system while being shielded from much of the structural racism, only becoming educated about it in more recent years. And I did indeed learn a lot from this work along with having plenty of my suspicions confirmed. For example, the whole notion of political correctness hinges on the fact that America has been openly racist for most of its history and that the civil rights movement of the 1960s made it no longer okay to do so, at least publicly, pushing racism behind closed doors to this day. As I noted above, I highly recommend this read to those who claim to be liberal and anti-racist, as it’ll reveal to you how you’re just being played into pushing forth the system that you think or claim to be fighting against.

Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison

A classic from the incredible Toni Morrison, this novel follows the arc, growth, and coming of age of a boy as he transforms into a man. Themes of identity, personal freedom, and family history play significant roles in this piece. And of course notions of race and blackness are interwoven throughout the piece in subtle ways – with Morrison just immersing the reader in aspects of black culture without explaining it – as well as more obvious ways. With regard to the latter, issues of race like those involving legal inequality and police brutality come up, which is especially relevant today, despite that fact that this work was published over 40 years ago. Morrison’s writing is astonishingly poetic and it often feels like reading a dream. There’s plenty more to appreciate about this piece. It’s engaging and I couldn’t put it down, once I got past the beginning which was left mysterious and a bit difficult to follow for me. And while the main character is a man, I really appreciate that plenty of other characters are women, and especially strong ones at that.

Resistance: A Songwriter’s Story of Hope, Change, and Courage, by Tori Amos (audiobook edition)

Known for her songs that hit a wide range of politically relevant subjects, the singer-songwriter pianist, Tori Amos, expands with a work that tells a deeper story that encompasses her own life. Each chapter begins with one of her songs, and she dives into a greater meaning beneath the song as there’s personal and/or political matters at hand. Amos begins with her time as a teenager playing piano at hotel bars in Washington DC frequented by the politically elite. She talks about the quid pro quo patriarchal power structures within the music industry, offering seamless comparisons with similar structures in our government. This work is emotionally evocative on a personal and society level, and well worth a check out. I recommend the audiobook version if that’s your thing as it’s read by Amos herself. Her emotions and presence of energy inhabit every chapter, from the reading of lyrics to throughout the stories that follow.

Gun Island, by Amitav Ghosh

This novel is a rather timely one, released just last year. Taking place in current times, It features a middle aged Bengali Indian man, Deen, accustomed to his calm life of selling rare books in Brooklyn, embarking on an adventure to solve an old mystery with chilling parallels of present circumstances. As Deen travels between Brooklyn, his home land of Bengal, and Venice, he runs into a slew of interesting characters including an old Italian friend, a fellow Begali American who’s an woman environmental scientist, and an entrepreneurial boy who’s caught up in the human migration “business”. Speaking of migration, it’s a central theme for people and animals alike, due to changing climatic conditions. As Deen breaks down the mystery, we see other relevant themes pop up – the disconnect between man and nature, the greed that harms us humans, the notion of culture in a land served by immigrants, and the politics of refugees. There’s even a reference to a pandemic! This piece is a wonderful, enjoyable read! And it’s fabulous to see a modern day piece where the protagonist is South Asian, with other major characters represented by strong women.

Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler

This dystopian future novel is as frightening as it is engaging, which is to say big time on both fronts. It follows a black teenage / young adult woman through her pursuit of survival in a time where society has long broken down. It’s a particularly bleak picture in Southern California, along with the rest of the country, where the economy has collapsed and humans must form small self subsisting enclaves to survive – if they’re lucky – and resort to violent and animalistic behavior if not so lucky. And the story only gets more bleak: however bad the situation is for our protagonist, it only becomes worse as time goes on. And for an extra bit of discomfort, this “future” takes place in the mid 2020s, not far from now, though the piece was written in 1993. There’s lots of interesting themes at play here: That most of the population is poor and barely able to make do, if at all – usually at the expense of others. That the rich are able form their own walled gardens. That the government is full of false hope and empty promises. That corporations have enough power to create their own walled cities with essentially indentured servants as employees. The roles of family power dynamics. The grounding and ungrounding presence of religion. The matter of race and trust in other human beings. Perhaps most unreal is how our society might very well see this as a reality as we’ve slowly been slipping to a place of economic disparity and turbulence. As I mentioned, this is a gripping read, and it is structured as journal entries written in first person by our protagonist. Check it out!

Parable of the Talents, by Octavia E. Butler

This is the sequel to the my previous read, “Parable of the Sower”, picking off shortly beyond where its predecessor left off. And while I found the first book to be scary, this next one is downright chilling. Why? Because this 1998 piece quite accurately predicts the rise of Christian fanaticism during the 2020s, complete with a leader who pushes his followers to bring violence on others (while simultaneously claiming to “condemn” such acts and say he supports diversity), who manages to become president of the US, and rides a political line to “Make America Great Again”. We find our protagonist, a black woman, alongside her newly formed tribe in contact with such fanatics – whose greater organization “Christian America” claims to be doing good while simultaneously abusing their power to a great extreme, not unlike what the less savory parts of our human history is rife with. And with this being set in the future, there’s technologies available to enslave individuals in utterly insidious ways. Needless to say, this novel is another gripping one and perhaps painful to read at parts (in a good way). This book is structured similarly to the first, with everything in the form of journal entries. But instead of the entries being from just the protagonist, there’s extensive entries of her daughter and a few by other characters. This piece might be fiction, but much of it could be a reality soon given the state of our country.

Rest: How to Get More Done When You Work Less, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

I was under the impression that this book would be about “rest” as in the form of relaxation and vacations and such, especially given the flip flops on the cover. But it turns out to be yet another hyper-productivity book, this time using anything “non-work” as the definition of rest. And I shouldn’t have been surprised given that the author, Pang, is based in Silicon Valley, the land of over-optimization. That said, this book ultimately did prove interesting and useful to me. The central premise is that we ought to work smarter, not harder, and a core aspect of working smarter is to get away from work – with chapters dedicated to particular ways of not-working. Many of the chapters hit areas that aren’t well accepted, but confirmed what I already suspected or understood based on my own experience. Like that about four hours is the upper bound of the amount of creative work that can be done in a day, at least for a particular domain. And that naps can play a vital role in supercharging one’s thinking and productivity – and while the author included some science to support this, I wish he went into further detail, like explaining that it’s possible to get into REM cycle during a 20 minute power nap (my personal speciality). Conversely, the author discussed methods of improving creative work that surprised me. That one should not wait to be inspired or feel creative before they start working, but instead need to start working and do so consistently, regardless of mood, and that eventually the mood will take hold on its own. Also, the author noted that most creative work does in fact get done in earlier part of the day – even for night owls. So with these two concepts in mind, I’d switched around my schedule the past weeks, forcing myself to sit down for my contract software work at the beginning of the day, and I can say that it’s worked marvelously. Unfortunately, much like our own creative energy, this book does lose steam in the latter parts, where it feels the author is captain obvious. He delves into chapters concerning sleep, exercise, “deep play” (which seemed like a rehash of previous chapters), and sabbaticals. They seemed like no brainers to me, but then again, perhaps not everyone is convinced of all this interplay and it’s nice to have a reminder. If you’re finding yourself with more unstructured time these days and find the days slipping by and yourself feeling guilty about it (I’ll raise my hand to that), this book is definitely worth checking out.

A World Between, by Emily Hashimoto

This novel is particularly special for a couple of reasons. First, one of the main characters is a Gujarati Indian American, like myself. And second, the author is one my colleagues at my main work client, Idealist. The story centers on two American women, Eleanor Suzuki, of Japanese and Jewish descent, and Leena Shah, of Indian descent. The two first meet in college and experience an intense yet brisk period of romance that’s abruptly cut short, and they meet again years later by chance as more “established” adults, rejuvenating their connection. The story hits in so many ways – the frustrating millennial quest to do socially meaningful work; living in a lesbian culture with antagonistic forces of the freedom offered by exposure to feminism and the single-path mentality of traditional immigrant families; what makes for friendship and romance and love; and insecurity and communication. The story is well written with colorful characterizations of locations (including Boston, SF, and NYC) and of emotions. While written in third person, it alternates focus between Eleanor and Leena’s perspectives, respectively, between different segments of the book. I found this to be pretty cool because we always had direct access to the feelings, often insecurity, of the character at hand, while the other character came off as more a mystery – and yet seeing this happen on both sides indicated how similar they were. I especially appreciate that the author, Hashimoto, was accurate in her portrayal of Gujarati Indian American life including the “single-path mentality” coming from immigrants parents and the pressure for American raised kids to navigate a very different world. Lastly, this book is a testament to the complex world that women, especially of color, must navigate, and it even goes up a level with the author herself, who wrote the piece somewhere in between her full time job and caring for a newborn.

Men Without Women, by Haruki Murakami

Written by perhaps Japan’s most famous novelist, and one that’s renowned across the world, this work is a collection of short stories each circling about a theme of some man as he’s affected by some sort of relationship with a woman of significance in his life. One story explores a man’s attempt to understand why his deceased wife had affairs. Another story looks at a young man’s resistance to fulfill a seemingly perfect relationship. Yet another story is a remix of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”. The stories are easy to read and follow and are incredibly engaging. Conversely, I found a few things that were not to my taste. First is that many of the stories seemed to end abruptly, as if there was a huge build up, only to end by leaving things mysterious. Second is that many of the men seem, for lack of a better word, pathetic; and this seems to be the theme of many of Murakami’s work. That said, I found the secondary characters to the story to be very interesting and noteworthy, especially when they were women.

Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang (audiobook version)

After enjoying Chiang’s most recent collection of short stories, Exhalation, I was craving more. This set of short stories, like Exhalation, follows themes of science fiction, religion, alternative and futuristic technologies, and a deep look at societal and ethical implications of the situation at hand. One story is an alternative version of the Towel of Babel story. Another covers the psychological breakdown of a mathematician whose proof undermines all of math and determines her world to be a lie. Yet another looks at the concept of heaven, hell, and what it means to love god unconditionally in a suspenseful, action-packed tale that includes powerful angels. Yet another was the basis for the movie, “Arrival” (the short story version is much better). And a story that really left a mark was one that looked into the ethical tradeoffs of a world where others can’t be judged by attractiveness. The stories are engaging and timeless (especially as they were published in 2002), and if you choose the audiobook version, the readings are very well done.

Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone, by Satya Nadella

I was recently commenting on the double whammy fact about positions of power being less accessible to people of color AND how our media hardly gives attention to the POC that still manage to come to positions of power. A case in point being Satya Nadella, an Indian immigrant that not only rose to become the CEO of Microsoft a few years ago, but incredibly turned around what was surely a sunk ship into perhaps the most grounded tech company around today. So upon discovering he’d published a book a couple years ago, I had to read it. Now first things first: a lot of the sort of books written by CEOs tend to be the same with the author talking about some lucky/privilege upbringing, bringing in some personal life analogies that fit crudely at best, changing company structure/culture, and doing a ton of name dropping/thanking of people at the company. This book, unsurprisingly, has all of those things. But a few things did stand out. First is that Nadella was actually part of a special school in India which wasn’t highly regarded but somehow churned out a ton of future CEOs. Second is that he managed to circumvent racial barriers to some degree simply because he had grown up in the majority and with privilege (in India) and was simply able to confidently shrug off discrimination as ignorance. Third is that he faces a great challenge with a son with cerebral palsy, and this in turn shaped his vision for Microsoft being a technological force to create accessibility for all people. Combined with Nadella’s story of his path, they’re worthwhile sections of the book so that’s plenty of reason to check it out, especially if you’re in the tech world.

How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi

This book has appropriately been making its rounds over the past year and I finally made the opportunity to check it out. And I’m gonna say this right up front: if you consider yourself to be a non-racist person (and I assume all ya’ll do), then go read this book, because it is so clear with its definitions and explanations, and will totally help you answer your own questions while sussing out your own biases. The author, Kendi, starts by noting that there’s no neutral ground when it comes racism – that we are either behaving in ways that are ACTIVELY against racism, and if we’re not doing that then we are harboring some form of racism, even and especially if we choose to be passive about the manner. Kendi goes on to turn a few other things around: that what makes for our inequitable world can be divided into racist policy and racist ideas, and that racist policy actually creates racist ideas, and not the other way as around as many of us believe. He also points out that much of our policy (and the racist ideas that follow) – which are created by individual people – come more from self-interested profit than anything else, and I found his correlation of the origin of modern day capitalism with the transatlantic slave trade with it especially interesting. The arrangement of this book is absolutely terrific as tells a good story, and more importantly is well organized in practical manner to break down all the dimensions of the world of racism (and anti-racism). The book follows the author’s own journey, from childhood to present day, of experiencing racism in not just his American life, but within himself, capping off his progression to becoming antiracist. It’s thoughtfully structured as each chapter explores a part of his life, lasering in on a particular lens of racism. Some of these areas of focus include: biology, ethnicity, culture, behavior, class, gender, sexuality, to name a few. So the engineer in me really appreciated this structuring. Meanwhile, the human in me really enjoyed Kendi’s story as he spoke about growing up in Queens, NY (my hometown), his own transformation from non-studious to academic, and from unconsciously racist to actively antiracist.

No One Can Pronounce My Name, by Rakesh Satyal

This novel might just be my favorite read of the year, and I had the pleasure of hanging with the author when I was a guest at an artist’s retreat in Italy last year. The story, taking place in Cleveland, centers on two middle aged individuals that immigrated from India decades earlier: Harit works in a menswear store, lives with his mother, and is in the midst of dealing with a second family tragedy, while Ranjana is a married woman who’s just seen off her son to college and looking to break out of her predictable married life by secretly bringing herself to a writer’s club. This book is about many things including friendship, love, navigating an American world as Indians (whether raised abroad or born here), being gay, individual histories/tragedies, and developing one’s self by developing relationships with others. And these others include an assortment of well developed characters which include Harit and Ranjana’s respective coworkers and family members. The whole story really comes together, as the author, Satyal, does a masterful job diving into tenuous themes while keeping the work wholesome throughout. Well worth a read!

Internment, by Samira Ahmed

This novel, published in 2019, is set “15 minutes into the future” where the US administration has instituted an internal Muslim ban. The main character, a 17 year old American, Layla Amin, along with her parents, face sudden and increasingly restricted lives from the loss of access to school and work to curfews. Ultimately they are forcefully shuttled to an internment camp alongside hundreds of other Americans of Muslim faith. And while “settling” into this new prisoner, I mean, internee life, Layla must find a way out for herself and her family, seeking some means of help from the outside (like her Jewish boyfriend and social media) and from others inside the camp. This book takes cues from the years long internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II and given this recent history along with the administration we’ve had in America the past four years, this book would have been downright frightening to read. That said, it was incredibly engaging and I finished it in a matter of days. It’s also a very easy and straightforward read so it’s a great pick for teenagers, especially given that the main character is one. And while I found this novel to be overdramatic to a theatrical level – they could probably turn this into a great movie without having to change a thing – it’s well worth a read!

The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali, by Sabina Khan

This novel, like my previous read, “Internment”, stars a 17 year old American girl of Muslim faith. And the subject matter is just as relevant if not more so. Rukhsana, who lives in Seattle, is finishing up high school and prepping for a life at Caltech alongside her girlfriend, Ariana. And of course Rukhsana’s traditional immigrant parents, originally from Bangladesh, are none the wiser about the girlfriend or of their daughter’s sexual orientation – until they one day unexpectedly find out and throw all of Rukhsana’s plans into shambles. The rest of the story is full of twists and turns. It starts out light and silly as expected of teenage life, but shit gets real as the story progresses. A number of themes come into play: That there’s allies among fellow brown people, young and old. That a patriarchal society creates insidious family history where women must endure. The uphill battle of living progressively in a traditional environment. And what balancing one’s own life desires with that importance of family. My fellow South Asian friends (and family members) will find this read both uncomfortable – as it’ll be reminiscent of one’s own challenges – but also comforting – as it seems that our challenges are more common than we’d think. And for anyone of other backgrounds, this is a great book to understand the difficulty your South Asian friends face in what often amounts to a double life.

The Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri

This work is a collection of short stories, and all of them focus on characters of Indian descent. Many of the stories take place in the Boston area while others are elsewhere, including a couple in India. And while each story is different, there are common themes underlying several stories including relationships between husband and wife, brief windows into immigrant life in the US, and the mistreatment of women. One story looks into a not so typical decline of a marriage followed by a rekindling made possible by a power outage. Another story involves a white child being babysat by a recent immigrant women whose husband is a professor. Yet another story concerns the revealing of a secret by a wife to her tourism guide. And there’s plenty more. This book reminded me a lot of a previous read of short stories, “Men Without Women” by Haruki Murakami with regard to the build up and length of the stories as well as the ease of reading the interesting tales. And while some stories here felt like they cut off a but too quickly (like nearly every one of the Murakami stories), a handful closed in a thankfully more satisfactory manner. Overall this is a great read and a quick one too.

26 Marathons: What I’ve Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, and Life From Each Marathon I’ve Run, by Meb Keflezighi

Meb, an American icon, has represented well in marathons and in this book he speaks about each of the 26 marathons he competed in. With a chapter for each one of his marathons, I was a bit concerned that the material would get dry and repetitive but thankfully that turned out not to be the case, as each chapter also included racing lessons, his training plan, and other interesting background leading up to each race. It was interesting to see how his training and race day strategies changed as he aged – and he’s worth listening to given that he won the Boston Marathon at almost 39. And I loved reading about how sponsorship rules factored into his racing decisions. As a marathon and ultramarathon skater, I was pleasantly surprised to find that quite a lot of the circumstances I’ve seen in inline speed skating marathons are present in marathon running too. Like drafting and sticking with a pack has quite an effect. And as a result, surges and attacks play a key role in race strategy. Less unexpected is that race day is always full of surprises, as you never know who’s not gonna be feeling their best (including oneself) and other conditions can shift things quite a bit. And as a distance athlete, there was a lot to learn from Meb. Like that one makes the most gains with consistent training over time with plenty of recovery rather than extreme efforts, and that this builds a body that can sustain performance even with missed training due to injury. And it seems doing a multitude of disciplines plays a key role in training, as Meb participated in plenty of shorter races interspersed between marathons. Overall this piece is inspirational and given all the challenges, setbacks, and missed goals faced by Meb over his career, only for him to come back and take the top, it’s a testament to keep propelling oneself forward.

Inflection Point

on Apr 13, 2020

I think a lot about how our world and society has progressed, not just over my lifetime, but over decades, centuries, and millennia. I remark on the “savage” conditions our ancestors lived in and, perhaps more notably, the unnecessarily savage conditions “society” forced upon others. It gets me thinking: in the decades, centuries, and millennia to come, what savagery will our more utopian descendants see in our lives?

I imagine our descendants will remark on how terrible we were to force most of us to “prove” that we deserved to exist through a system of labor that primarily benefited those who were already well off. That we had to prove that we were worthy of having food, shelter, health, and the freedom to express ourselves through art, despite the fact that there was more than enough wealth and resources in our world to give every human being these very things. How with pity will they look upon us because so many of us had amazing art and creativity and talent and energy that would have made our world so much a better place for everyone, and couldn’t. Because we simply had to uphold some false story, some misguided or ill-guided belief, that we have to “contribute to society” in a specific manner.

Perhaps what our descendants will find most astounding is that we put up with it.

I believe this pandemic has given us plenty to worry about beyond just the health and wellbeing of ourselves and our loved ones:
– that many of us are living paycheck to paycheck and barely scraping by when it comes to basics like housing, groceries, and healthcare
– that millions find themselves laid off (and now without health coverage) by the corporations they poured their hearts and souls into
– that artists – from musicians to dancers – are fighting for any grant that can help them and are left performing and teaching online on the basis of charity
– that structural inequalities have left certain groups of people, like women and people of color, far more exposed to disaster
– that so many people are out working in an exploited manner because they have little other choice – frontline healthcare professionals, teachers, delivery people, farmers, grocery store workers, local law enforcement, transit employees, sanitation workers – the most essential members often suffer the most and have always been underpaid, overworked, and most at risk for some disaster

Here’s the thing though: all of this has been the case for a very long time. The difference now is that every major societal problem is being pushed to the forefront and to the limit, and it’s all as out in the open as it may ever be. With this in mind, I believe the whole “going back to normal” mentality is very misguided. Over the long term, society moves forward, and what was considered “normal” at one point in time was a terrible reality for some or even many members of our society. Going “back” to the pre-pandemic era erases the lessons we’re learning about economic and health inequality. It’s not all that different than how “going back to normalcy” to before the current political regime would require forgetting the racial and class divides being foisted upon us, or how in order to “Make America Great Again”, we’d need to undo all the civil rights advances so that we’d once more be at the “rosy” stage where white men flourished at the expense of all others (of course there’s more work to be done here).

We’re at the cusp of what’s likely to be the biggest inflection point we’ll see in society in our lifetimes. We’re embarking on an opportunity to make great strides in improving our social fabric, but only if we challenge our choices in what constitutes the new “normal” for action. Most of us are in SOME position of privilege, so we have ways we can act:
1 – For those privileged to have skills that are in high demand, you can choose to take on work that produces a net positive on members of our society, or at least avoids doing damage.
2 – For those privileged to have some position of power at their workplace, you can demand greater transparency in the consequences of the work you do or demand that your organization chooses a more socially conscionable strategy.
3 – For those privileged to have any pocket money, you can put it towards the essential members of society (you know who they are now): pay artists their fair share; shop at businesses that treat their employees well; tip service workers.
4 – For those privileged to have lots of free time, you can use it in service of others by pursuing projects that help your community – even if it’s centered around a hobby of passion – or finding opportunities to volunteer.
5 – For those privileged to not be part of a group that’s marginalized (e.g. if you’re white or a man), you can stand up when you see others being treated unfairly, by saying something, even or especially if it means making for an awkward situation.
6 – For those privileged in any other way (get creative here!), you can use that gift instead of taking the more “convenient” approach so that there’s something left for those less privileged.

I have no shame in saying that I put my money (and actions) where my mouth is. In terms of work, I’ve turned down many requests and offers from well endowed corporations because I wasn’t convinced that the work wouldn’t indirectly cause damage to our society. I instead primarily do contract software engineering work at a lesser rate for a non-profit (fittingly this has been paying off, as I’ve had more paid work than normal, not less, during this pandemic because we’re pursuing COVID response initiatives). When taking recent online classes, like from dance instructors, I’ve paid well above the minimum donation amount because they deserve to be paid fairly for what they’re providing. I’ve spent a great deal of time and effort working with Skate Instructors Association, for next to no money, to expand online educational resources for the skating community. Even presently I’m spending massive amounts of time and energy to develop software that instructors in the physical and performing arts can leverage to create new means of business. I’ve minimized purchasing anything online (especially groceries) because I’m able-bodied to get things myself and that way the already strained system can cater to those who don’t have the resources I do. And as a general rule, I avoid giving money to large corporations whenever possible. I create space and opportunity for women and people of color including through work mentorship, leadership roles in the skating community, and doing everything possible to support my partner who’s a woman, person of color, and an incredible professional artist.

So when the economy reopens, will you see business as usual as bad business? When we’re no longer wearing gloves, will your hands already be in action? When we’re no longer wearing masks, will your voice already be screaming through?

I understand that some of you reading this might be in the category of “just scraping by”, and I get that we don’t all get to make the choices above. And that’s ok. But there’s plenty in my circles (myself included) that have privilege in some dimensions if not across many, that can make a huge impact. We get a choice in all this of course. We can choose to remain in our comfortable privileged cocoon, doing work for a corporation under the false illusion that you’re doing something essential for the world (hint: this pandemic has made it quite obvious what’s considered essential), when more likely than not, it’s harmful to many members of our society. We can choose convenience whether it comes to where you spend your money, how you receive services, or from not having to worry about changing things from the way they’ve been.

But is that the legacy you want for yourself? Is that the side you want to be part of when our descendants look at the history books? Or will you write a more inspiring story for yourself, and for the rest of our world?

The 43 books I read in 2019

on Jan 22, 2020

In 2019 I read 43 books. And while this might seem outrageous, my original goal was an audacious 50 books. Either way, I consider it a great personal achievement, bolstering past the 27 books I read in 2018, the 19 in 2017, and a mere handful at best in 2016. Below is the full list along with my reflections of every one of these books, organized into arbitrary categories.

Some fun stats:

  • Of the five works of fiction I read (that’s a lot for me), four were favorites for the year
  • Five books were written by people I know personally
  • A dozen were audiobooks – so about one a month
  • Eleven books were authored by women

Jump to:


(click title for full reflection)

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (audiobook version)

If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi, by Neel Patel

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, by David Epstein

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, by Johann Hari

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondō

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, by Sudhir Venkatesh

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results, by Esther Wojcicki (audiobook version)

Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman


Complete Handbook of Speed Skating, by Dianne Holum

Upon seeing a picture of this book and noticing the author’s name, I had to pick it up, for it was written by the mentor of Eddy Skater, who’s my mentor. The book is a guide to training for Olympic level ice speed skating and unsurprisingly the author is not only the coach of Eric Heiden who’d won an unprecedented five individual gold medals at the 1980 Olympics, but an Olympic medalist herself. This book, despite being published in 1984 when inline skates were damn near impossible to come by, is extremely useful for inline skaters looking to become stronger and faster as it contains a great deal of exercises that are done off skates, as ice time was also hard to come by then. In that light, there’s plenty in this guide on putting together a yearlong training program – with details down to every day – that can apply to any athletic endeavor. At the same time, there’s plenty of skating specific exercises to bolster technique, strength, power, and speed; and some of them are quite challenging. The discussions on training for sprinting and training for endurance are pretty revealing and overall I look forward to incorporating many of the elements from this book, as well as similar ones gleaned from training with Eddy, into my 2020 regimen.

The Art of Falling: Freestyle Slalom Skating, by Naomi Grigg

This book, written by my friend, mentor, and favorite slalom skater, is simply put an amazing resource to understand and excel at not only slalom skating, but every form of skating. Having first read through it four and a half years ago when I properly embarked on my journey of slalom skating, I’m again left feeling invigorated upon rereading it cover to cover as I once more find there’s so much ahead of me to learn, apply, and work on. It’s a good feeling.

In the first portion of the book the author provides baseline information on principles of skating, equipment, and setting yourself up for progress. It’s rather entertaining (perhaps because of the author’s personality) as the author directly addresses things we often get hung upon like what kind of equipment we should use (it matters less than we think), safety (use your brain before blindly using your helmet), and trying to find the best training settings (most top skaters deal with what they got and just skate).

The second portion of the book is a guide to foundational moves with details on how to approach each of them through steps, images, diagrams, and tips. To me this part of the book seemed as confusing as it did helpful as, even with my existing knowledge, I found the steps difficult to understand and there were sometimes discrepancies between the sidedness of the step and what was shown in the diagram or pictures. It’s worth noting though that the author also states that a book isn’t really a good place to *learn* basic moves so perhaps we’re in agreement when I say it’s best to take the great list of moves and find videos to help. That said, the tips and troubleshooting portions of each move are solid and they definitely helped me personally when I was learning.

The third part of the book is pure gold as it dives into rarely considered yet essential principles of skating – especially pivots, style, flow, skills, drills, practice strategies, and competition tips. The big takeaway for me at this point is that I’m amped to rebuild my slalom foundation by consciously reworking every move in the form of pivots as it’ll set me up to learn the higher level moves that I’ve been having trouble with as of late. But regardless of your level, this book will provide you the tools to take your skating up a notch. I highly recommend the physical copy as there’s many pictures and diagrams but if you can’t find it, a digital version can do as the real meat of is in the words.

Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, by Alex Hutchinson (audiobook version)
While we often think of physiology when it comes to athletic performance, this book delves deeply into the mental aspects that are involved. It explores many avenues (including physiological ones) and while they’re disparate and give the book a bit of a hodgepodge feel, each area is interesting in its own right. One avenue looks into how having a lack of memory on how much you’ve done (due to a brain problem in this case) can increase your endurance manyfold. Others explore the impact of diets and technological “innovations”. And then there’s cases of just having someone to compete against, whether it’s breaking their record or pushing past them in the heat of an event. This book focuses a lot on running performance as that’s where most data is, but the implications can apply to any endurance activity. If you’ve ever wondered why your race day performance always seems better than your practice times, you’ll have your answer here.
How Bad Do You Want It?: Mastering the Psychology of Mind over Muscle, by Matt Fitzgerald (audiobook edition)

A friend recommended reading this book prior to competing in the Le Mans 24 Hour skate race which both of us were training and preparing for (the event was unfortunately ultimately shut down by the French government). It proved immensely relevant and helpful in addressing the most important thing missing from my training: the mental aspect. The author dives into a handful of psychological strategies that can help one attain maximum athletic performance and pairs the concepts with inspiring tales of athletes that used the strategy (often unknowingly) to reach new levels. Despite not getting the chance to apply the concepts at my event, it definitely addressed a lot of my pre-race qualms of how I’d handle rolling for longer than I’d ever done so. This book is great, and the only caveat I have is that the author focuses mostly on triathletes and cyclists. It would have been great to see examples from a greater range of physical endeavors.

Changing Expectations In Special Olympics: A Guide to Basic Skill Acquisition, Health and Sport For Individuals with an Intellectual Disability, by Jacques Thibault

The author, who gave the keynote at Camp SkateIA’s instructor day, has had an illustrious life as a former olympic speed skater, a leader that’s helped bring slews of medals to entire olympic teams through his strategy of “changing expectations”, and most recently raised athletes with intellectual disabilities (ID) to a level that would rival professional athletes. This book centers on the last bit and it’s a revealing one. The author discusses how it is essentially total bullshit that we typically have such small expectations of ID athletes, from their barely competent performance at competitions to the absolutely minimal training time they get. He advocates instead that these athletes not only need to get the same amount of training time as their non-ID counterparts, but require additional focus to fully and substantially develop subskills that serve as building blocks for advancement and success at their sport – which interestingly enough is a big focus of the teaching model for SkateIA instructors. There’s lots more detail to this, including online resources for sport specific strategies and breakdowns that could serve coaches well. It was great reading this piece as it was super eye-opening.

DangerMan’s Paintball Bible: Your Secret Weapon To Dominating Woodsball. It’s The Definitive Woodsball Paintball Manual, by Lars W Hindsley

Written by a friend in the skating community who’s also an avid paintball player, this is a solid guide to understanding the game of paintball and developing proficiency at it. The author focuses primarily on woodsball (including rec ball) while also bringing in a decent bit of hyperball knowledge where relevant and for comparison. The general takeaway is that strategy matters over everything, especially athleticism, and the author delves into tons of application of tactics. Despite not being a paintball player myself, I found the book easy to follow thanks to a friendly and conversational approach along with plenty of diagrams and images. The author does a good job making the material approachable and relevant for beginners as well as more experienced players while avoiding the trap of coming off elitist, which is much appreciated. If you have any interest in paintball, or are curious to understand that there’s so much depth to this game than meets the eye, check out this book. I sure wish it’d been around for the one time I played many years ago as I’m certain my not so good experience would have turned out to be a great one.

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, by David Epstein

50491156_10103452947297894_4552928366147141632_oThis was a fascinating book where a central theme is that the so called 10,000 hour rule is more a myth because its original interpretation is misguided and also because our genes indeed determine our potential range of abilities. Some of the many insights include that some people (including couch potatoes) are simply able to pick up physical arts faster due to genetic factors (and slow picker uppers never become fast), that early specialization in a sport is less likely to lead to success than having diversity across disciplines instead, and that different body types (genetically determined) allow for someone to be better suited for one sport over another if they wish to be at the upper echelon. That said, to be great at a particular sport or physical art, you might be doomed by your genetics, but more likely not, as hard work, training, and practice can get you to a high level of proficiency. Or a lucky stroke of genetics might make the path an easier one. While this book leaves me with many questions regarding my own pursuits in the physical arts, it’s also solidified much of the path I’ve taken thus far.

Race, Politics, History

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, by Colin Woodard (audiobook version)

Between all the political bickering going on with friends across our country and the vast differences in lifestyles I’ve seen firsthand throughout my travels, I can’t help but think that America is more a conglomerate of different nations patched together than a single unified entity. According to the author, this is rather accurate. He points out that our notion of the country expanding from East to West is misguided and that instead different areas of America – eleven according to the author – developed independently from one another and eventually butted heads. The piece is surprisingly engaging as it starts with chapters on how each “nation” was founded moving on then to the conflicts and compromises that arose over time bringing us to the present day state of affairs. I found it fascinating that the greater NYC area, which the author calls New Netherland, prioritized anything that made for good business, recreating the highly diverse and tolerant culture ever present in Amsterdam at the time. That much of the Deep South was founded on principles of highly authoritarian social structures, which is present in the way religion plays a role in the areas to this very day. And that much of the northeast and beyond, dubbed Yankeedom, as well as the Left Coast (founded by Yankees), are based on Puritan self governing principles that are pushed onto everyone around them (white liberal elites much?). There’s also a rather common theme throughout the American history of white elite men blatantly screwing over everyone else including Native Americans, blacks, women, immigrants, other people of color, and non-elite whites. Although written 8 years ago, this piece is more timely than ever as it’s given me a much better understanding of how our country came to be, and I highly recommend it.

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History, by Kurt Andersen (audiobook version)

This piece had originally caught my attention a couple of years ago but I’d decided against reading it at the time because it seemed like it was just another piece hastily released to exploit our curiosity to understand how we got into the current societal and political circumstances of today. However, upon meeting the author at an artists’ retreat in Italy, I learned that the piece had been in the works long prior to the presidential election cycle, so I decided to check it out. This piece is very long and detailed, perhaps more repetitive than what I’d prefer, but I really appreciate the sheer amount of data the author presents to make his case. His case is that we Americans are prone to integrating fantasy into the core of our lives and we have been throughout the history of our nation. The author delves into story after story including our obsession with religious institutions (and literal interpretations of the Bible), theme parks (and how our cities and towns have become more like them), immersion events like war reenactments and Burning Man, our obsession with guns (along with the fantasy of the good guy with the gun), conspiracy theories, and the concept of “fake news”. He shows that the wacky world we Americans have found ourselves today isn’t something new, but a consistent theme that’s only gotten become more apparent and strengthened by our current media systems (very similar to the arguments made in “Amusing Ourselves to Death” which I’d read previously). While I found the piece to be extremely enlightening, I felt the author could have done more to show that much of the power of fantasy was exacerbated by individuals that exploited others for their own personal gain. Conversely, I would have liked to see additional explanation or theory to explain how social psychology played a role in our vulnerability towards fantasy. That said, this piece has really helped bring to focus certain notions I’ve noticed about our country: Like why non-Americans find American culture so fascinating. And that the very American mindset of freedom, liberty, and achieving any dream is a double edged sword with a dark side that we’re all guilty of. The audiobook version is read by the author so if you’re more a podcast person, I do recommend checking out that version.

Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime, by Ron Stallworth

This book was recommended to me upon discussing the movie that it’s based on, and I sure hope the movie is better than book. This is a quick and engaging read, but it’s not particularly well written. There’s a lot of repetition and the author missed opportunities for analysis and parallels to the current state of affairs. That said, I do believe this is a worthwhile read. I found it really illuminating to learn about the history of the structure and motives of the KKK as well as its societal implications. It’s especially worth noting that it seems that this version of the KKK (late 70s) is just a handful of disorganized men but they do a good job expanding their influence through clever use of engaging the media. That parallels well with today, where many of the hate groups, which are small and not something to be scared of, are gaining a great deal of influence and power through our media’s desire to blow things out of proportion, and furthermore get pushed along by social media.

If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi, by Neel Patel

This is a stunning collection of short stories where most of the characters are first generation Indian Americans often of Gujarati heritage, like myself, straddling the line of traditional eastern values and expectations of parents with the western world they’re born into. The author strives to blow past the stereotypes that we are all simply hard working, obedient, non-sexual beings while simultaneously submersing us in taboo areas of sex, drugs, mental health, love, homosexuality, interracial relationships, divorce, not being a doctor/engineer, and singlehood. While all the stories are fiction, the “world” of each story could downright be taken out of any of the lives of the many Gujarati Indian Americans across the country today. I almost wonder whether others would get the detailed references but I really appreciate them as I would an inside joke, and it makes the stories feel all the more personal to me. I love that the author gives plenty of attention to women and gays, and also dives into areas of classism and racism. Regardless of your background, this book will tug at your emotions. If your background is similar to the author’s and my own, it’ll feel so real and personal. If you’re a first generation American coming from a traditional family, you’ll see so many parallels to your own challenges. And if you’re none of the above, it’ll be a severely eye opening look into a world we live in that many people just don’t understand. This is a quick read and so captivating that I finished it in a day. Go check it out!

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, by Neil Postman

This book ought to be required reading for every person that consumes information through any sort of visual media, including social media and television. So in essence, everyone. The author discusses how the information we consume is greatly affected by the nature of the media it flows through including, oral, written, auditory, and visual forms – with a latter biasing our information to that which is more amusing, entertaining, and full of showmanship – regardless of the wholesomeness of the information. I’m sure many of you are nodding your heads with agreement upon looking at the shit show that’s become of our social media and news sources. But here’s the kicker: this book was written in 1985, and was targeted at television. The problems of visual media have been around a long time and if the author were alive today, he’d probably have an aneurism at how his arguments proved truer than he ever would have imagined. This book left a huge impression regarding how I consume information as I now check myself on whether I’m actually learning something (as opposed to having the illusion that I am) and whether the piece reeks of entertainment (hint: it likely always does). The solution of course is to move away from the fragmented, short form, and short sighted forms of information that move us from one disconnected story of the week/day/minute to another, and instead move towards long form information. Something that really astounded me was that the public debates Lincoln had with his adversaries were an all day affair, with one candidate having three hours to present points, the other another three hours, and then an hour each for rebuttals – and this wasn’t even at the presidential race level. I can’t imagine having that level of attention today, but I think it’s essential for the sanity of our society and ourselves that we move towards longer and deeper forms of information consumption. In essence this book is a testament to my own project to have books be my primary source of information. Perhaps you’re not ready for such an audacious goal, but you can start with one shorter book, and now you know just which one to choose.

Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, by Sudhir Venkatesh

This book is super informative, engaging, and well written. The author, a South Asian, recounts his time as a graduate student of sociology and haphazardly deciding to walk into the Chicago projects to do some research, eventually becoming friends with a gang leader. Over the course of years, the author spends much of his time in this environment and learns about the lives, community, and unusual political dynamics within the public housing. The author does a great job illuminating a world that few see or can understand, and it becomes clear that the people living here are simply human beings trying to make ends meet while being in an inescapable situation that’s the result of systematic racism built into our society and government. Things that we might consider illegal (selling crack), immoral (prostitution), or corrupt (paying off government officials) are part of the daily existence, and it’s hard to blame people for resorting to these methods of madness just so they can simply exist. This book was written over a decade ago of events occurring 30 years ago, but it’s more than relevant today. Go read this book and good luck putting it down.

Mind and Self

What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude and Environmental Conditioning will Renew our Lost Evolutionary Strength, by Scott Carney

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. The essence of it is that we’re pansies about the cold much because we live in a modern world where we move from one climate controlled environment to another, with minimal exposure to the real elements. The author argues that our bodies are evolutionarily designed to handle cold conditions and by letting this capability go unused, we’re developing health problems (much in the way we’ve developed autoimmune diseases by living in a sterile world). But through cold weather training, we can reactivate these systems and live a more vital life, and one where we don’t feel the pain of cold. The author himself was a skeptic of this movement and originally explored this world to debunk it, and instead became a convert. On a more personal level, this book not only confirms my own theories towards cold weather training (for years I’ve skated year round regardless of temperature and always “underdressed” to force my body to get used to it), but suggests that I can go way further. Perhaps it’s just a placebo effect, but I’ve come to embrace the cold since I began reading this book – from walking outside a minute without a shirt in NYC to going for a swim in the Miami ocean (I never swim because I get too cold), and I’m finding myself enjoying it and hardly feeling the cold. Don’t be surprised if you see me forego the shirt in general regardless of temperature 🙂 Thanks Trish for recommending this book!

Freedom from the Known, by Jiddu Krishnamurti

I became aware of this Indian philosopher when, in another book, he was quoted: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Seemed like my kind of thing, and this book very much is. The author argues that we seek a freedom from conflict in the mind by following the external: like society’s rules, religion, schools of thought, and drugs; yet this freedom can only come from within ourselves as we must be our own teacher and our own disciple. There’s a lot of interesting angles he approaches, and they’re all interrelated. For example: that we often don’t actually have relationships with people, but instead with our images of them. And that a lot of the conflict in the mind comes from it “living” in the past or future, when we’re only really capable of living in the present. This is a very welcome read as I’ve already been in the midst of considering these principles throughout my daily life, and the book showed that I’m still very much in conflict in my mind.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, by Miguel Ruiz

This book is short yet full of terrific perspective about the external forces (primarily perceived forces of society) that cause us to make choices to live a certain manner that ultimate restricts us. I like that the author is direct about the matter – saying that we are domesticated (a theme that fits well with my own take of the world). He proposes four specific “agreements”, pacts we make with ourselves, which can help us mitigate and even eliminate the impact of these external forces and instead allow us to live vital, open, and effective lives. The insights go beyond these four agreements and at points I had to put down the book and think about the implications of them on my own life. It was terrifying in one way and freeing in another to see aspects of my life arc through these new lenses. This is an awesome read and I highly recommend it.

Zen in the Martial Arts, by Joe Hyams

This is a great quick read and one I’d first read many years ago as a young adult when I’d gotten back into the martial arts. The author captures insightful anecdotes and stories from martial arts masters he trained under, including Bruce Lee. These lessons are awesomely practical because they apply not only to martial arts, but to all sorts of life circumstances. I own a physical copy, given to me by a friend, so hit me up if you’d like to borrow it.

Ego Is the Enemy, by Ryan Holiday (audiobook version)

57503622_10103547580197804_8981302075119894528_nWe all got ego and at some point in our lives, or more likely many points, it has kept us from being our very best selves. This book consists mostly of stories of individuals with ego, and those that have transcended ego, to illustrate the impact it has on our own happiness and success. The author delves into his own stories as well. I found the piece to be especially relevant to today’s world, where we’re so keen to push forth our own specialness despite the obvious and not so obvious repercussions. It’s also been really insightful for me as I’ve worked for many years to address my own presence of ego, and continue to do so still.

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, by Pico Iyer

This is a super short read, but offers some thoughts on the experience in a mode of nothingness, something quite rare in our always-on modern world. He shares stories of some specific individuals that have chosen this mode and the different ways they go about it – from the extreme of isolated zen monasteries in the mountains to simply alone time during a drive. One interesting point shows how those most infused in our tech heavy world tend ones proactively creating “sabbaths” to disconnect from it.

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth, and Karen Dillon

I found the title of this book a bit unusual, as the content is so much more. The authors discuss strategies and anecdotes to living a meaningful life and given that the authors come from the business world, they offer many interesting and well fitting parallels and stories between that world and that which pertains to our lives. One major area covered includes principles for creating a career that brings purpose, balance, and meaning. Another area explored values to forming intimate relationships and raising children, which I found very well stated. The last section was on living a life of integrity. Overall this book is well organized, easy to read, and full of interesting insights that one can immediately apply to their own lives.

Who Are You, Really?: The Surprising Puzzle of Personality, by Brian R. Little
This is a short book that appears to be based on a TED talk, and to be honest, the TED talk probably would have sufficed for the content presented. The author discusses that our personality is formed not only from nature (which he bases on openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) and nurture (our societal forces and opportunities), but also the “projects” that we pursue. These projects can represent nearly anything including paid work, finding a mate, cooking a meal, or going on a trip. In essence, the author argues that who we are doesn’t determine what projects we pursue, but that the projects we pursue determine who we are, even overriding our nature and nurture.
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times, by Pema Chödrön

This is a relatively short read that has a handful of useful insights, but overall falls pretty flat. The whole thing could be summarized as “when things fall apart, run towards instead of away”. The author speaks in very abstract terms and jumps between concepts, anecdotes, stories, and her own experiences. This would normally be fine, except there appears to be little connection between these parts and it often comes off as incoherent rambling. As mentioned, there are some good insights hidden within the text, but they barely receive any attention, elaboration, or concrete examples. As I was mostly through this book and still bewildered about what the author was getting at, I decided to look her up. Turns out she’s one of these American born white women that fell into the hippie Eastern mysticism craze common in the Bay Area (she did study at UC Berkeley), went off to find her South Asian guru, got herself a new Eastern name, and now speaks in riddles. If there’s any familiarity to her style, it’s that of the white people that like leading yoga classes while thoroughly mispronouncing foreign words and concepts and giving the impression that they’re some sort of sacred vessel here to enlighten us. That said, if you’re one of those froo froo hippie types (nothing against them, as I have many friends that are), you might enjoy this work and find it useful. But as someone that comes from an Eastern culture and prefers something more down to Earth and concrete, it wasn’t a well suited read for me.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo

Written by perhaps the world’s most famous tidy upper, this short piece offers us the strategies and philosophies to cleaning up our homes. The core of the book drives home two strategies – disposing possessions and creating a place for remaining possessions – and the author argues that doing these two things correctly will void the need for any other strategy. She goes into meticulous detail on how these two strategies must be applied (and the magic is in these details) and warns against sophisticated storage systems as they don’t actually address the root problem of having too much stuff. The real gem of this book though is not the strategies, but the philosophies within the details and the bigger picture, as they not only have a spiritual feel, but are also practical. For example, the author says that one needs to hold each item when sorting and ask whether the item brings them joy, and use that as the primary metric for deciding whether to keep something. Conversely, the author points out that the process of decluttering brings one insights into their true interests and desires. There’s so much more than this but I won’t spoil the surprises. Definitely check out this book.


Going Gray: What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Really Matters, by Anne Kreamer

I had the awesome opportunity to meet the author at an artists’ retreat in Italy and decided to pick up her book to explore the biases, within society and myself, regarding expectations of women’s appearance. A few things became very apparent to me: that women start to go gray much earlier than I expected (usually in their 30s and sometimes even in their 20s), and that nearly every woman colors their hair (a process that’s expensive in time and money). The piece is pretty riveting as the author presents an honest and vulnerable look at her own process of stopping to color her hair, and weaves in tons of personal firsthand research – from experiments in online dating to visiting appearance consultants for professional makeovers. It’s a rather brave story because although it seems like a piece that’d be relevant with the surge of women’s power pieces going strong today, the book was released over ten years ago and accounted for events happening in years prior. This work is full of surprises as it reveals that having gray hair as a woman appears to be considered attractive to men but also a detriment within the domain of many careers choices. I also found it fascinating that the author shares the great deal of the insecurity she felt about herself and the process, which is in stark contrast to the confident and accomplished woman that I met – complete with a shock of gray hair. Perhaps it was the process she went though. Either way, this book has changed the way I look at gray, and I highly recommend it.

The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy

I read this novel back in high school, but remember little of it. Reading it again I can see why as I was much too naive to understand the unsavory themes that the story dives into. The novel centers on a two twin siblings and events that transpired during two particular time periods in India. The novel feels almost like a mystery as the author jumps back and forth between these two time periods setting the stage and slowly revealing pieces of the puzzle. Throughout the story we’re exposed to themes of colonialism, racism, mixed races, classism, domestic abuse, child molestation, classism, politics, family image, and love. What I especially like is that this piece is written in a way that mimics the stream of consciousness of a child – interpreting happenings and even language in an ultra creative and often silly seeming manner.

The Outsourced Self: What Happens When We Pay Others to Live Our Lives for Us, by Arlie Russell Hochschild

This was a cool read that delved into the a number of ways that we now “outsource” rather intimate aspects of our lives. The areas includes dating (now online and with with online dating coaches), wedding planning, raising kids, and parental caregiving, to name a few. While I expected the author to come off judgmental towards these trends, she was actually very objective about the tradeoffs that we experience, and that we do live in a new reality these days. I was especially stirred by her two chapters on surrogate mother businesses run in India (with “clients” worldwide) as the author devoted not only a chapter for the outsourcer’s perspective, but one for that of the surrogates. There’s some room for critique though. For one, some of the chapters seem more about rich people problems which I have little sympathy for, though the author does do a good job exploring the impact on the not so rich people outsourced to deal with problems. And secondly, the author attempts to weave together her disparate chapters with a personal story of her aunt who needs taking care of, but this insertion seems rather forced and I feel it weakens her piece. Overall though, the research is deep, the material is fantastic, and the book is well worth a read.

The Infinite Game, by Simon Sinek (audiobook version)

This author has played a role in my holding onto my spirit while navigating the dispiriting world of work through his books and talks, so I was excited to see another piece from him. Here, the author discusses strategies concerning work, projects, interpersonal relationships, and everything in between through the lens of whether we’re playing as if it is a finite “game” or an infinite one. He defines the former as something with fixed rules, knowns, and a defined ending (much like all sports), while the latter is full of unknowns, potential chaos, and has no defined ending. The author states that we often mistakenly apply a finite mindset to the infinite nature of the work world and while this often produces short term benefits, it doesn’t bode well for the long run. What I especially appreciate is that he calls out the bullshit where most companies claim to be infinitely minded (“serve the health of our customers” in the case of a convenience store chain) while pursuing actions that contradict the very value (selling cigarettes and saying they’re “evaluating” things when being called out). The author also points out how such finite thinking leads to something he calls “ethical fading”, where values and ethics slide down a slippery slope because of the arrangement of incentives – something I believe most people have experienced working for any kind of organization. I found it interesting that a lot of the companies that were shown to have issues with finite thinking were affected by their shareholders and the short sighted stock system. This piece overall is great and engaging and I recommend it to everyone looking to regain some spirit in their work. And I’d consider this required reading for anyone that runs any type of organization. The audiobook version is read by the author so it’s worth considering that version.

When Strangers Meet: How People You Don’t Know Can Transform You, by Kio Stark

This is a fun little read about the magic that’s possible when you’re willing to pierce through the wall of anonymity, especially the sort that exists in a place like New York City. In addition to enjoyable tales, the author provides a bunch of practical tips to help one engage with strangers. For a super shy person such as myself, it’s definitely a different manner of thinking and one that I expect to take me on new adventures, in both the mental and physical worlds.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari (audiobook version)

This is a substantial book and one that seems to be making rounds recently, but I have mixed feelings about it. The author does a great job explaining principles of evolution and the scientific process by which we can decipher our history, and in an easy to understand manner. He also proposes all sorts of interesting philosophical discussion and ideas about aspects of our human history and humanity’s future. On the split side, many of his claims are misguided, according to research in the field I’ve worked with or done firsthand myself. For example, the author claims that much of humanity’s uniqueness and adeptness at cooperating at large scales stems from our ability to hold and believe in shared imagined concepts (like laws and political beliefs). While there’s some truth to this, it misses the next level of explanation which is that our real unique ability is to enforce (through threat of force) sets of shared rules (which can take the form of imagined concepts) and that’s what ultimately promotes cooperation at scale. This goes double for the author’s huge chapter on religious belief, where he argues that the beliefs themselves are what created the power of religions. This was specifically my research area and the work I did shows that humans evolved religious concepts as part of a larger in-group out-group dynamic, and these concepts were later hijacked by those in power (those with threat of force) in order to promote their agendas. That said, this was still an enjoyable and well written read and I recommend it. Just take all the claims with a grain of salt.

If you’ve read this book or are interested in the topic of human history, I highly recommend the book written by my research professors: Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe: Human Evolution, Behavior, History, and Your Future, by Paul M. Bingham and Joanne Souza. And yes, it does include some of my research work.

Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope, by Mark Manson (audiobook version)

Riding off the coattails of the ever popular “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck”, this book looks into the supposed grim seeming world we’re living in today. The author discusses the paradox of how there’s a general sense of anxiety permeating society despite the fact that things are materially better than ever before. He delves into plenty of psychological research and philosophy to illustrate that we’re often chasing the wrong things to ease our anxiety, and that there’s certain aspects of our humanity we must understand and accept in order to escape this everything is fucked mindset. This piece is as entertaining as it is informative and as with the author’s previous book, I recommend the audiobook version and it is delightfully read by the author himself.

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, by Steve Silberman (audiobook version)

This was a very long book but covered a great deal more than I expected. There’s so much to autism in form, history, and misconception and the author does a great job exploring each of these areas. One point is that autism takes many form (best described as a multidimensional spectrum), and while those with autism deal with many challenges (e.g. overstimulation), many also exhibit some pretty stunning capabilities (e.g. in technical fields like engineering). Something unexpected is the author’s deep dive on the history of treatment (especially mistreatment) of those with mental challenges, and how autistic individuals have been unfortunately and callously intertwined with those that exhibited mental or physiological conditions. That part seemed overdone to me but overall the information in book is solid.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, by Adam M. Grant (audiobook version)

Although, the title of this book is inaccurate and the splattering of info makes it hard to get a solid structure for this piece, the content presented is marvelous. The author does a good job finding various patterns that show how one can indeed make an impact on the world. He presents all sorts of examples including the women’s suffrage movement, the success of Warby Parker, the failure of the Segway, and the takedown of a Serbian dictator. Through these stories are interesting and surprising patterns and insights like how risk takers are less likely to be succeed in a new endeavor than the risk averse, how procrastination aids the creative process, and how pitching your flaws is more likely to get a sell.

Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food, by Catherine Shanahan

I’ve read a good fifteen or so books over the years on the topic of food, nutrition, and the science, history, and poltiics behind it. This book was great in that it was consistent with the primary pattern I’ve found in these books on food (healthfulness is inversely proportional to the level of processing the “food” has undergone). Better yet, the author, a biochemist and unorthodox doctor, offered many new insights in concert with the theme. She argues and provides research supporting the highly detrimental effects of two items in our food world: one being the obvious culprit of sugar and the other being vegetable oil, a much less obvious one that appears to be in pretty much everything. And central to her concept of a healthful diet are four pillars that appear to be present in many traditional diets: fresh food, fermented and sprouted food, organ meats (and eggs), and meat cooked on the bone, and reasons for why each provides such health benefits. The content of this book is great, and even includes some interesting chapters on creating healthy children. Overall the book does feel long and repetitive at times, so something to keep in mind.

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (audiobook version)

This might be one of the most insightful pieces I’ve picked up. The author talks about a general property that some things may have , “antifragility”, which is something that not only survives a stressful environment, but thrives and benefits from it. These “things” could be literally anything, like ideas, systems (natural and manmade), and even romantic relationships. Concordantly, the author applies his principles across utterly different domains, including financial strategy, maintaining good health, the restaurant industry, and a very astute explanation for organisms evolving the ability to die. What I especially like about the author is that he freely speaks what he thinks (he does argue that one should speak no differently between being sober and having two glasses of wine – something I agree with) so he’s slamming people left and right, most notably the so called intellectuals across academia, business, and politics which he sees more as bureaucrats and double speakers. I have to admit though that it does seem a bit much, as the author often sounds like he’s butthurt and defensive – quite a shame as his totally insights stand on their own. That said, the ratio of insight to ranting is pretty good, and substantially better than another book I’ve read from the author, “Skin in the Game”. Check out this book and you will never see the world the same!

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

An incredible novel set in a not so distant future Thailand and one that can’t quite be classified as it has elements of extrapolative fiction, science fiction, and dystopian future. The author did a terrific job with not only the world in which the story exists, but especially so with character development, with a focus on moral ambiguity so you don’t quite know who to root for or against. If you’re on the empathetic side, as I am, be warned that you’ll have your emotions tugged in all sorts of places because you’ll really feel for the characters and their difficult circumstances. Although the book was written ten years ago, it has a lot of relevance today in the areas of genetic engineering, global politics and trade, race relations, and corporate influence. And I imagine it’ll play a greater relevance as our real world future unfolds. Thanks Stephen for recommending this book!

Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions, by Johann Hari

The author argues that depression (and the anxiety that often accompanies it) stems rarely from biological causes which is the narrative that our medical industry pushes, but instead mostly from societal factors, primarily losing connections with people, work, and values. He goes through specific factors that influence someone becoming depressed and how the way we live in our modern society pushes this likelihood. There’s some surprising insights, like how ubiquitous advertising affects us from a young age to how technology is not so much a cause of people losing connections, but a symptom of it instead. The implications reach beyond our individual approach to address depression, and indicate that there’s something very insidious in our modern social lives that we need to take heed to. I highly recommend this book and digital versions are available for dirt cheap ($2 eBook, $7.50 audio book).

How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results, by Esther Wojcicki (audiobook version)

This is a terrific piece that simply put, brushes aside the all too common helicopter parenting trend that’s produced a generation that hardly seems to be able to do anything for themselves, and instead focuses on creating an environment that helps children and teenagers develop into stunningly independent and capable individuals. The author is the mother of three of the world’s most accomplished women: the head of YouTube, the founder of 23andMe, and a professor of pediatrics. I began reading this book with a bit of skepticism as oftentimes success is simply masked privilege but it turns out the author herself lived a very challenging early life in a downright authoritarian household as the daughter of traditional immigrant parents that had to work hard to make ends meet – something I can very much relate to. The author discusses her framework which consists of five components: trust, respect, independence, collaboration, and kindness (TRICK), and supports them with tons of stories and anecdotes from her own childhood, the raising of her kids, and the thousands of high school students she taught and mentored over the years. The essential principle is creating a structure for young individuals to do things on their own and often fail, but still have support throughout the process. Some of my favorite examples include letting kids decorate their own rooms (along with the outlandish style they’d have to live with for years), debating whether and how to go about including a difficult topic in a school newspaper (along with the implications it has on various individuals and themselves), and being included in the family vacation planning (with zero complaints that they’re bored come vacation time). There’s also plenty of critique of our current world which forces young individuals to adopt a mindset of always being perfect and at the top while continuously testing them, instead of permitting mistakes that one can learn from, get feedback on, and grow. I wholeheartedly agree with all this given what I’ve experienced in my own life (sadly feeling the need to be perfect) and find myself instead using “TRICK” principles more so these days and expect to down the line. This book is as engaging as it is practical as it’s chock full of interesting and personal stories, many imparting their point in an entertaining manner. I highly recommend it to anyone that has kids, is considering having kids, or is working with young individuals.


The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, by Gary Chapman

I’ve read many articles that referred to the five love languages – Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch – and knowing about them has helped immensely to address misunderstandings in relationships, whether my own or others’. The central premise, in the articles and the book, is that most of us express and prefer to receive love primarily in one or two of these languages and we often blunder by not hitting the right one(s) for our partner. That said, the original book is well worth a read on its own. The author covers each of the love languages in detail and provides a ton of examples from his work as a counselor,. The writing and narrative is very engaging and personal. This book caters specifically to those in existing romantic relationships, but the principles can easily be applied to those that are dating, to introspection of past relationships, and also to expression and expectation of love with friends and children. It’s worth noting that there’s religious undertones to the writing but in my opinion it’s more related to the author’s background in community, and does not come off preachy at all – I found it rather personable.

What Makes Love Last?: How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal, by John M. Gottman (audiobook version)

I’ve encountered this author’s research work in many other books I’d read and thought it was about time I took a firsthand look at his writing. The author states that the core of good relationships is trust more than anything else. In addition to his famous work on the concept of “bidding” – where a relationship’s health can be determined by how a whether someone responds to their partner’s bids for attention positively, negatively, or neutrally – the author delves into a number of other areas including blocks to making good relationships great, salvaging damaged relationships, and determining when it’s time to call it quits. Although this book focuses solely on romantic relationships, I believe many of his principles apply to friendships as well. A great book and I highly recommend the print version as there’s a lot of reference material and lists and stuff that’s not really easy to refer back to with the audiobook version.

Finding Your Perfect Match: 8 Keys to Finding Lasting Love Through True Compatibility, by Pepper Schwartz

This was recommended to me by a friend and given that I’ve been in the midst of assembling a concrete set of principles that make for a good relationship, romantic and otherwise, it was right up my alley. The author discusses 8 particular personal characteristics and how combinations of them help determine romantic compatibility with another individual, much like in a Myers-Briggs fashion. The author does a great job breaking down these characteristics and demonstrating how they impact a relationship. However, I don’t buy the author’s claim that four of these traits ought to be more similar between two people while the other four need to be more different. Even the author appears to contradict herself as she explains exceptions in all of these cases. That said if you follow the details and ignore this glaring high level error, the information pretty solid.

Worlds Beyond

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values, by Robert M. Pirsig

This American classic is essentially two books – one about a father and son motorcycle trip across parts of America, the other about philosophy – and they’re weaved together through the application of philosophical concepts to modern culture and maintaining motorcycles, and also a curious mystery involving the author’s past. The portion about the trip reads like an enjoyable novel despite that it consists of accounts of fact, and the portion regarding the author’s past is gripping. The philosophical portions however seemed rather heavy handed and tough to read when discussing abstract concepts. But perhaps it’s just over my head and something I’ll come to understand when I reread the book in a future life. All that said, the real gem in this book for me was the concrete application of philosophical concepts. The author does an exceptional job defining the concepts and using them to slice our world via insightful lenses and explores areas I’ve given much thought to myself. Like what drives motivation when working on a project. Or what makes something more like art with its romance and beauty versus something more akin to science with its logic and organization.And of course there’s the greater societal implications regarding these philosophies. Overall this was an exceptional read and I highly recommend it.

Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

This work of fiction is wonderful. Not only is it engaging, but it really makes you believe something absurd. The bulk of the story involves a boy castaway on a lifeboat with a tiger as his “companion”. In this regard it’s quite reminiscent of “The Martian” (the book and not the dumbed down movie) where the main character must come up with clever solutions to survive seemingly impossible circumstances. An unexpected gem in this book involves philosophy about religion, society, and one’s own behavior, with much of it captured in the first part of the book. There’s also quite a bit of interesting discussion on animal behavior which I really enjoyed. It’s worth noting that this work is written mostly in first person, something that makes a huge difference to me as I find third person fiction – with dialogues of multiple characters – difficult to follow. Go read this book. You’ll love it!

Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman

This brief novel is a collection of wonderful short stories, each a few pages long, that explore various worlds where time operates in different ways and the stunning manners in which people operate under such circumstances. In one story, time repeats over and over again. In another, time moves slower for those at altitude but not so for those that aren’t. The stories are predicated on fictional dreams being had by Einstein as he was working out his theory of relativity in 1905. I really enjoyed each story, and often had to pause for minutes or even hours in between them to grasp the universe, happenings, and implications of each one. Well worth a read.



on Apr 13, 2019

Happy Spring everyone! I don’t know about you, but winter is always tough for me, and was especially so this year. New York was particularly dreary and rainy this time around and my recent move to Queens left me more isolated than I’d been used to. But I think there’s more than that. At this particular point in my life arc, and perhaps the arc of our society, I’ve been feeling a lack of true friendship, and it’s a feeling that’s persisted a while. I’ve been digging at why that could be, and a few of the usual suspects come up. People go through phases – they get boyfriends/girlfriends, husbands/wives, kids, careers – and their priorities change. This is especially common at my age, and it’s a pretty frequent complaint that it’s hard to make or have time for friends in your 30s. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this, but a few things do warrant concern, especially with existing friendships that don’t feel the same anymore. Sometimes we don’t sit down and have the conversation about how priorities have changed, and we hold off on setting new boundaries and expectations. And even when we do set those expectations, they aren’t always respected, so the friendship becomes a one-way street that’s convenient for one party while leaving the other longing. The friend says that they’re “busy” and still care, but “busy” is just another way of saying they care about other things more than they do about you. Truth is revealed in action, not words, even if the person actually believes the words they speak.

I also began thinking, “What actually creates the deep connection in a quality friendship?” A book I’d read on depression pointed out that an essential part of our existence stems from shared experiences with other human beings. I think with friendships, an important aspect is that the experiences are “challenging”; perhaps physically (climbing a mountain together) or mentally (creating an art installation on a tight deadline). Another part is whether the partner is someone who is “emotionally available”. When a friend offers this, they become a go-to person who’s there to be your sounding board, to hear you out, to give you perspective, to be the reliable one, and to smack you when you’re in a dumb mindset. They create an environment where you can be vulnerable, be honest, be able to release emotions trapped inside, and be yourself. There’s a sense of trust underlying these two parts, and it takes a lot to build a foundation like that. (As an aside, romantic partners can totally fulfill all this and count as quality friends, but because such relationships have their own complexities, I find it helpful to have additional quality friends in life for perspective, especially when it comes to discussing challenges involved inside a romantic relationship.) So why is this so difficult? There are a lot of factors, but three specific areas come to mind right now: showing face, technology, and work.

Showing face – We want to appear a certain way to other human beings, which in turn prevents us from being our real selves and limits the depth of our interactions. We’ve become so sensitive to appearing sensitive to others that we’ve lost the ability to actually be sensitive. By being careful not to offend other people, we’re no longer honest with them. And by trying to always look like our lives are wonderful and everything is happy-go-lucky, we no longer have the space to be vulnerable. There’s more to say here that I haven’t thought through yet, but it’s definitely related to the next two parts.

Technology often gets the blame in creating social problems. After all, it’s these damn phones with the texting and social media that are keeping us from having deeper interactions with others, right? But I think it might be the other way around: that people already have this void, and they’re using the quick hits from this technology to fill it. The use of digital communication in this way is more a symptom rather than the problem itself. Besides, technology is simply a tool without any inherent sense of goodness or badness, and any tool can be used to enhance life or to degrade it. I’ve seen so many instances of digital communication tech help fill people’s souls. For example, I often see immigrants video chatting with relatives on the other side of the world, and they have the biggest, most genuine smiles on their faces. And I personally love using social media to get a bird’s eye, big picture view of the life arcs and trials and tribulations of the many people I’ve met over the years. The big difference with these cases is that technology is being used to ADD a social experience where one did not exist or wasn’t otherwise possible, while a lot of the downsides of digital comm tech happen when one substitutes or REPLACES an “analog” experience with a “digital” one, which often results in less quality interaction. That said, technology makers do need to accept some responsibility for damaging personal relationships, because the makers intentionally bias these things to steal our attention in every way possible. On our end, we need to be mindful about using technology and setting boundaries. In 2008, when I purchased the first Android phone, I set a clear cut rule that it was never to come out of my pocket while I was hanging with other people in real life, except for when it would enhance the immediate social experience. I also keep notifications to a minimum and keep my device on silent most of the time. The tools are there, but we need to use our brains with them and not let them replace our brains.

Work – Another factor to consider is the encroachment of the work world into into our personal world, particularly in corporate type settings, beyond the 24/7 emails. If you’ve worked at such an organization, you’ve more than likely taken part in a team building event. Perhaps a trivia night or drinks with the coworkers or some food thing. These things are getting more and more common. And It’s essentially an exploitation of our desire to meld with our tribe. After all, for most of human history, we operated as tribes and worked alongside the people we lived with and shared friendship with. Our brains are evolved for this environment and companies are taking advantage of this to foster a false sense of being part of something bigger, despite the fact that they can just dismantle your “tribe” in a heartbeat or fire you with no notice. Now you might say, “So what? There’s nothing wrong with being on friendly terms with people at work.” There are a few problems here. First is that it’s extremely challenging to develop an intimate friendship – with honesty and vulnerability – with coworkers when there’s a need to simultaneously “be professional”. Second, work often pressures you to take part in these social events, and abstaining puts a red flag on you as being someone who’s not a team player, leading to career damaging consequences. And third, you’re spending social energy (and a lot of it to maintain something that’s clearly not genuine) leaving less for real friendship. We need more people to stand against this bullshit. I often turn down taking part in such activities when a work client offers, and I’m honest that I’d rather spend the time with my friends or other pursuits. I understand that I’m in a privileged position by being a freelancer with highly regarded work, and even then it’s not easy. That said, it is possible to forge friendships through work, especially if there exists a less hierarchical and more free flow structure. Still it’s important that we understand that forcing “friendship” in a professional setting does in fact negatively affect one’s real friendships.

Perhaps this sounds a bit depressing, or that I’m off on a rant (I won’t argue against this), but I do have some inspiring things to say. At the start of this year, I set an intention to focus on quality friendships. This wasn’t a simple thing and has some very challenging aspects. The first thing I did was continue to prune out lower quality friendships, either by breaking off ties with certain people, by setting explicit boundaries regarding my interaction with them, or foregoing social events that were unlikely to create that deep shared experience. All this was especially difficult because some friendships were formerly quality ones, and it’s hard to let go and not succumb to the temptation of a quick hit of interaction with them, knowing that it won’t produce the deeper connection anymore. This step is important though because it creates space and energy to give to higher quality friendships, and you need every resource to do so given the challenge of creating new friendships in light of what I’ve said above. But I began reaching out more to friends that showed the seed of quality, even if they lived far away. And I created or took up opportunities to speak with them more, see them as frequently as possible, be more vulnerable with them, and offer my own self in whatever ways they needed. I want to tell you about some of these people.

One is Trish Alexander, who runs the Skate Instructors Association. In addition to working closely with her on projects to improve the skating world, I’ve come to enjoy who she is as a person, and who I am around her. It became clear to me that creating more space for a friendship with Trish would be worthwhile because she’d often call me regarding skate teaching logistics, but would always begin first by asking how I was doing, and she meant it. Beyond phone calls, I’ve already had the chance to spend time with Trish three times in 2019, despite the fact that we live on opposite sides of the country. While each of these instances was related to a skating event, they’re events we each consciously made the effort to attend (and at least in part for me because I’d get to spend more time with her), and we created space or time to hang with each other – whether it was choosing to share a meal together when we could have done so with 100 other skaters, or by going on leisurely dog walks because we arranged buffer days around the events. I’m sure the shared experience (and challenges) of running skate instructor certifications together helps a lot to create a bond, but it’s doubly so because we’re each keen on personal growth in a way that produces emotional availability that we then share with each other.

Uncoincidentally, Trish wasn’t the only remote friend I’d already seen three times this year. Last week my skating brother from Atlanta, Parker (a.k.a. Trenter), and his girlfriend, Susan, came to visit me. I’d been hesitant because of their timing as it was right after I’d already skipped doing work for my main client for a week, but I thought, “Fuck it, this is more important to me”. I sent an email to my client being straight up as to why I’d be unavailable a few more days and the main boss said, “Friends are good :)” – I was glad he understood and that I had taken the honest approach. I had an awesome five days hanging with Parker and Susan. We spent the days skating and taking classes in dance and acroyoga, and nights practicing what we learned from class (in my living room while in our underwear) and sharing intimate conversation. It’s really something to let oneself be vulnerable and share things about your life that you’ve never shared with others before. Having Parker and Susan over was the best early birthday present I could have received!

I’m practicing being more open, honest, and vulnerable beyond just these friends. It’s definitely an uneasy feeling especially when that level of trust or intimacy hasn’t been developed, but it also works wonders to create the trust and intimacy. Conversely it’s a good way to gauge whether someone is capable of providing a deep connection, and if not, I can make the conscious choice to limit the extent of my interaction with them. But for those who respond in kind, it’s an incredibly uplifting feeling, and I’ve already found a few special souls.

Look into your own friendships. Are they giving you a sense of deep connection? Do they fill your soul? Are you finding opportunities to be open, honest, vulnerable, and yourself? Are you creating and sharing intense experiences? Or are you putting time towards superficial relationships? On the flip side, are you offering the best of yourself to a few special human beings around you? True companionship costs time, energy, and conscientiousness, but in the end it’s more priceless than anything else in life.

Creating Requires Fertile Land and Burning Down the Forest

on Jan 1, 2019

Frame from video captured in Glacier National Park, August 2013

Frame from video captured in Glacier National Park, August 2013

2019 marks the year where I CREATE. Specifically, I intend to create a stronger physical self, create refined and apprehensible ideas, create community, and create friendship.

Like planting a tree, creating something can’t happen in a vacuum or on barren land. It requires not only fertile ground but also space to grow. A brambly forest leaves little resource for new roots to take hold. And a cluttered life makes for an infertile one. 2018 was a difficult year for me because upon realizing this, I essentially burned down the forest, removing, often painfully, that which hindered my ability to create.

I burned down the excuses where I told myself that I was getting weak and tired because of some life crap or another. I burned down my consumption of negativity, which is most prevalent in news and social media. I burned down connections and digital contact with “friends” because they had become one way relationships that gave back none of the energy I put in, or a shallow and pitiful replacement for human interaction. I ended 2018 feeling empty, because all that was left were the smoldering ashes of the burned down forest that was my life. But that empty and fertile canvas is exactly what’s necessary for me to create.

Necessary but not sufficient. I also need sunlight and rain and symbiotic wildlife. To create a stronger physical self: it means setting aside regular time to do things like learn new skating moves, take parkour classes, and keep my body moving. To create refined and apprehensible ideas, it means putting the pen down to paper to write and rewrite in order to distill the jumble of thoughts in my head, while pollinating my mind through long form writing (I expect to read 50 books this year). To create community, it means sharing my skills and abilities with others, whether I’m teaching them something new or working with them to complement their needs in their own community building projects. And to create friendship, it means reaching out to those that value a symbiotic relationship, being vulnerable and empathetic with them, and immersing ourselves in amazing shared experiences.

We each have our journey in life, but I feel creating is the most satisfying experience one can have. But we’re not always ready for it. I surely wasn’t a year ago and pursued conscious action to get myself there. It was scary, uncomfortable, and painful, but I knew it was worth it. So go create! And if you’re not there yet, start burning down that bramble!


on Apr 13, 2018


I think a lot about the choices we make in life, and I’d say the most important choices are where we put our time and energy. Work, play, family, community; we choose how to engage with each and how much. Many friends think that my choices in these areas are unusual because I left a supposed dream job at Google so I could spend a lot more time with wheels on my feet. But I think this trend is one that’s growing and in the two years since I made the choice, I’ve come to understand how to construct a practical life that’s full of passion and good work. Here’s a few thoughts.

Our generation has this notion that we ought to pursue our passions, which I think is amazing. But we also have this notion that we ought to be paid for it, and I think this is misguided in most instances, and for three main reasons. First, work is called “work” for a reason, and someone is paying you to do it because they either don’t want to do it (because it’s hard or boring or unpleasant), or they’re incapable of doing it (because they don’t have the expertise). Second, our human psychology is really geared to keep intrinsic and extrinsic motivations separate, and introducing the latter often extinguishes the former. For example, people that enjoy producing artwork often lose their inspiration when they try to make money from it. Third, our society is set up such that many of the things that people are passionate about don’t easily bring in income, which has been the case for many arts for millenia. There’s always exceptions, and I know a few fortunate people in this position, but it’s rare and these individuals have somehow avoided the pitfalls above, either through carefulness or luck.

As you might have noticed, I have a great passion for skating and put a lot of energy into my art. This includes organizing social skate events, teaching classes, mentoring other skaters, connecting and mediating different skating communities, performing on stage and on screen, participating on committees, developing informational content, promoting skating through social media, practicing and competing in multiple skating disciplines, and of course living on my skates as I fly through the city as part of my daily life. I can’t tell you how exhausting it is to do all of this, but it’s sure as hell worth it because I love skating and the community behind it. And I believe it’s some of the most meaningful stuff I do. That said, I make next to no income from skating, and I intend to keep it that way. Because if making money from it were to become a priority, then that’ll draw my energy away from the joy of skating itself.

Many people have asked me how I’m supporting myself financially. Given that I’ve been writing software code for half my life (I learned when I was sixteen), the fact that there’s a high demand for this type of work, and that it’s something I do enjoy and take pride in, that’s what I do for the paycheck. But I do it on my terms. I own my own business, work on a freelance basis, and have an agency (10x Management) that finds me potential clients. The first thing I did upon making this choice was turn down a lot of potential jobs because they didn’t fit my philosophy or lifestyle. They wanted too many hours and that would impede on my life. Or the work didn’t seem ethically responsible enough for my standards. I lived off savings for the time being and this was fine because I was in a privileged position to be comfortable living frugally and not have other humans dependent upon me. And I continued to expand my software engineering skills during that time. But over the last 9 months, my choice to not compromise paid off. I currently have two clients that I’m proud to work for. One of them does work to help non-profits better manage their finances, and many of these non-profits help promote sports activities to kids in underserved neighborhoods. The other client is a non-profit itself in the space of social good. I work the hours and days that I want and get paid only for the work I do. And while it’s a lot of work and responsibility to balance my work expectations, it’s totally worth it for the life I have. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to have the freedom to prioritize time to take care of myself, quality time with my family and friends, and my pursuits in skating and beyond.

I understand that I come a from a place of privilege. I was raised in a household where my parents put a priority on maximizing opportunity. There was care and financial backing to ensure that I got a great education and had exposure to the greater world from travel to having a computer in the house when I was young to sports classes. And while my parents were reserved about my pursuit of the physical arts (as it might undermine doing homework), they still paid for my karate classes and many pairs of skates.

Many people are not so fortunate and they spend a lot of their time trying to make enough of a living to support their family, or are busy taking care of loved ones that need their help. I have all the respect in the world for these people and hold nothing against them for doing what they need to do to have a basic and comfortable life. But I know many of you have the choice to make for a better world. So I ask you this: Are you conscious of the choices you’re making in your life and their implications to yourself and others? Does the work you do ultimately help people or does it harm people? Are you just going through the motions and chasing the corporate ladder because you think that’s what you’re “supposed” to do? Are you afraid of taking the risk to do something less conventional because of what others will think of you?

I think these questions are more relevant today than ever in human history. For one, a lot of the problems of today’s world stem from the disconnect between our actions and their implications. We spend many hours at soulless corporations to the detriment of our health and familytime. Our paychecks in turn come indirectly from those exploited on the other side of the world, or even our own communities. We invest our money in large banks that care only for the bottom line. And yet we have so much opportunity to make for better lives because it’s easier than ever to connect with like-minded others and build something together.

We each get one life and it’s never too late to go after the things that you think really matter. And it doesn’t matter how small you start, as long as it’s a concrete action. Like I said, some of the most important work I do doesn’t bring in money, but it makes the world a happier place. And conversely, the work that does bring me money also contributes to the human community at some level, instead of padding the wallet of some suit driving a Mercedes.


From protest to everyday action

on Jan 23, 2017

When our community embodies freedom of expression, inclusiveness of all people, and diversity of perspectives, it'd be a hard fight to take that away from us.

When our community embodies freedom of expression, inclusiveness of all people, and diversity of perspectives, it’d be a hard fight to take that away from us.

We’re at the crossroads for our communities, country, and even the world, especially in the area of civil rights. We’re outraged at the potential for our government to rip apart our rights and consequently destroy our lives and the lives of those we hold dear. I feel you in your outrage and am proud to see so many friends recently go out to exercise our right to protest. And it’s incredible to see the energy behind it. But where do we go from here? Through direct action on an everyday basis in ways that employ our principles of democracy in four areas: representatives, media, social norms, and community.

There is precedent for this line of thought. I recently spoke with an acquaintance, a black man on the older side who’d been very involved in the civil rights movement during the 1960s. He even stood not far behind Dr. Martin Luther King during the famous “I have a dream” speech. I asked him for his advice on how to best create a productive movement. He said that protests and marches are very good at calling attention to a problem. And that once the attention and energy is there, further protests do little and can even weaken a movement. He noted that the areas in which we need to act next and directly toward include elected representatives and media, which unsurprisingly are areas where we have much to protest about. Additionally, research in evolutionary psychology and group dynamics, a field I worked in formally, shows that proactively establishing good social norms and building our communities are effective ways to prevent forces like the government from disrupting our rights, and they enrich our lives in the process.

I think we’ve done a great job calling attention to the problems, and any further protest would sound a lot like the unproductive complaining often found on social media. So here’s some concrete action we can take going forward:

1: Get represented by our representatives
How many of you know who your political representatives are and in what areas they hold influence in? I’m just as guilty as you are if you don’t know. But you can look them up and contact them. Show up to their town halls. Tell them about the things that matter to you. Tell them about the bills you’d like for them to support or reject. It’s their job to listen to us, and we can’t blame them for coming to us once every four years when we only actively interact with them on election day.

2: Restore news in our news media
We might complain that the media is biased or inaccurate or not reporting relevant news, but media companies are business and business has not been good to them with the rise of the internet. We used to pay for news and journalism and now we have an expectation that it should be free. So is it surprising that we get what we pay for? Can we blame them for harnessing junk news or the loudmouths that get them ratings and readership? We need to support good journalism and the dying local press, including in financial ways. We need to directly contact media companies about stories we think ought to be covered or feel were glossed over. We need to share good journalism the drives at the complexity and nuances of a given issue, instead of reposting pieces that play on “us vs them” or appeal solely to produce an emotional response.

3: Establish good social norms
Social norms play a strong role in our day to day lives and our ability to wield (or be wielded by) political power. If we make it normal and ever present through everyday actions that we respect the rights of a woman and exert consequences on those that behave otherwise, then it’ll be very difficult for any political entity to change that. On the flip side, if we regularly stand on the sidelines as a complainer, despite having good intentions, it’ll be easy for insidious forces to divide us and push their rules on us. So for whatever rights you consider important, make it clear through regular action. Express yourself creatively on the streets. Speak well of friends that come from different races, places, religions, sexual orientations, and perspectives. And act boldly but kindly when someone tries to step on that.

4: Build our communities
I’m a boots on a ground and practical type of person, so while I keep an eye on activity going on with the faraway government, I’m more interested in what’s going on in front of me in my communities. This is where day-to-day life is most visible and where we have direct control and impact. What are you building and contributing towards each week? Are you sharing an art with friends? Are you teaching something valuable to others? Are you putting your time and money towards something you’re proud to be a part of? Not everyone has the privilege to contribute in every way, but those that can do more ought to because we’re all in this together.

With regard to the latter two, I feel fortunate to be part of communities that exemplify these principles, especially the skating community. We are humans from different backgrounds and places. We respect one another and express ourselves in creative and diverse ways. We don’t just look after each other; we stand up for one another when someone acts unfairly. With that in mind, I remain optimistic that we can embrace these ideals in our everyday lives. The inertia and drive is here. Now it’s time to act.

What’s now

on Jan 4, 2017

It's your life. What are you choosing to do with it?

It’s your life. What are you choosing to do with it?

Six years ago today, I embarked upon a new phase in life as a software engineer at Google, my first full-time professional job. In my time there I worked hard (but not too much), learned a ton (and in more ways than I ever expected), and set up a great foundation for my life. 8 months ago, I left the company. Although working there was as good as it gets for a corporate job, it still meant putting my efforts towards other people’s dreams. I was ready to place all my energy behind my own passions, and privileged enough to be in a position to do so. At the time of this shift, everyone asked me “what’s next?” and I told them that I didn’t have an answer for them yet. I didn’t expect to know what was next, but I knew that it would become very obvious if I pursued my passions in earnest, while meticulously being mindful of the latitude of my skills and how they can be applied to give people something of value. I set a goal to figure out what’s next by the end of that summer, and make it “what’s now”.

I set off on planes, trains, busses, road trips, and of course my skates. My travels during the summer took me to Virginia, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston, Ohio, San Francisco, Nebraska, Chicago, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Burning Man, and back home to New York many times. I spent time training in various disciplines of skating, from practices, attending workshops, and receiving a certification. I competed at many events. I became an ambassador for the art of skating and took the time to show off its beauty in real life and through social media. I brought my skating to the performance arts side, starring in a music video, performing at a roller rink, and getting an extra role for a TV show. I was recognized by and received assistance from multiple skate equipment companies.

While it was a busy summer with regards to travel and events, it wasn’t so busy overall and intentionally so. I incorporated a lot of downtime and buffer time to slow down my life. This was necessary as part of a great reset, and to give my mind the opportunity to sift through possibilities. I made time to take care of myself, see friends, and expose myself to different communities. By the end of the summer, points of clarity emerged. I sought to live a modest and flexible lifestyle involving plenty of travel and physical arts. While this lifestyle isn’t compatible with working at a corporation, it does fit well with the growing “gig economy”. And outside of the physical arts, I still enjoyed coding and creating software, so I had options. A plan emerged to blend my passions and expertises.

Since September, I’ve been hard at work making a new life behind the scenes. I founded my own company, Kinetic Expression LLC, to represent my work in the realms of professional skating and software engineering. For the former, it means more on the performance arts and teaching sides. For the latter, the first big project is a software app that serves as a learning platform for physical arts, including skating, personal training, dance, and basically everything else. This particular idea was conceived during a car ride with some amazing skater friends, and after months of developing it as a one-man team, I’m proud to say that it’s about ready for beta release. On the gig side, I’ve also joined the ranks of 10x Management, which is a company that matches high-end freelance tech workers to short term software jobs.

It’s always scary to make a big change in life and especially so when you don’t know what’s next. But the gap time is necessary to explore and figure out what you want, what you can offer, and the opportunities that fit in between. Had I jumped into another role right away, there’s no way I would be in this remarkable place right now. I’m excited for what’s to come. And I’m excited for what’s now.