Bad luck is better than worse luck

You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from

Fire in the UWS
A few days ago, rented a car to go that birthday party and also pick up a buddy from the airport.

Unfortunately, the tiny compact car I’d reserved had a dead battery.

So I called up the car rental company and told them that they needed to get me a replacement.

Customer Care: I’m so sorry about that! The only thing we have is an SUV. Do you want that? No additional charge.
Me: Sure, I’ll take anything. I just gotta go.

After losing about twenty minutes, the wife and I were on our way.

But during this time, the snow began to fall. It was only supposed to be an inch or so but it was clear that it’d be more.

A lot more.

Me: We gotta go.
Her: OK, let’s start saying our goodbyes.

Not long after arriving, we were back on the road. Had to call up my buddy and say we weren’t coming to get him.

Thankfully, we had that larger car so getting back home wasn’t all that bad.

This writer named Cormac McCarthy once said that, You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.

The thing is, it’s rare to actually realize that this is the case. This was one of those rare times.

But really, you could go through your whole life thinking you had terrible luck while, in reality, you’re far better off than if you had gotten what you wanted in the first place.

Moon in the daytime

Alternatively, you could always try and see the positive, however, small, of everything that’s ever happened to you.

This poet warrior – and I think that it’s telling he was a poet and warrior – named Mizuta Masahide once had a poem that went:

Since my house burned down
I now own a better view
of the rising moon

But there’s an even shorter translation I prefer. I told you about it once. It goes:

Barn’s burnt down —
I can see the moon.

Location: last night, shoveling all that damn snow
Mood: thoughtful
Music: She is running to stand still

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A Review of Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath

Only time will tell what makes you better or worse

Just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.

Actually enjoyed it better than his other books – which I also enjoyed – particularly because it seems to echo things I’ve always believed to be true. For example, he notes that there’s a difference between:

  • Direct hits – where something kills you, literally or figuratively
  • Near-misses – where something almost kills you, literally or figuratively, and it’s enough to send you spiraling into despair
  • Remote misses – where something almost kills you, literally or figuratively, but it’s far away enough from you to help you become stronger

Although not mentioned in David and Goliath, I think that two quotes best sum up the basic idea of the book:

Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong. – Winston Churchill
All experience is great provided you live through it. If it kills you, you’ve gone too far. – Alice Neel

It’s only with the passage of time that we’re able to see if the remote misses are near-misses and vice versa. Of course, that’s only if you overcome the blow in the first place. It’s not a perfect book – what is – but that rings true to me.

David and Goliath uses a lot of religious references (obviously) in order to show how these ideas have been with us since the early days of humanity.

And whether you believe in the biblical god or not, I’ve always like the story of how Jacob wrestled the angel and the angel was overcome. The angel could easily have destroyed Jacob but allowed him to survive to learn how to survive.

I’m not a parent, but I would like children of my own one day. I’m just not sure how to pass this type of knowledge down.

After all, a parent doesn’t wish troubles onto their children. But it’s only through stress does something become stronger, become anti-fragile.

Maybe that’s why I want them to fence, to wrestle, to struggle. I’d want them to know what it means to  get beaten, and then get back up again.

I think that’s why I do what I do. To give myself a daily dose of remote misses and to struggle to get back on my feet.

Location: getting dressed to go struggle for an hour
Mood: geeky
Music: a rattle and hum; Jacob wrestled the angel, and the angel was overcome
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Personal Goals

It gets harder getting things done

Me: Our sense of accomplishment changes as we get older. In fact I hit a personal goal this past weekend.
Him: Oh, what was that?
Me: No one called me. It was great to be left to my own devices.
Him: I know what you mean.

Was out in Staten Island yesterday. Sat in traffic for a good part of it. There, I met up with a fella that I’m mentoring for one of the things I do in life.

We both agreed that it gets harder and harder to fight the inertia as you get older.

David Allen, who wrote Getting Things Done, said that, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”

And that’s the problem: I wanna do everything. There are all these projects that I have in my head and I’m loathe to give up any of them.

I’d like to fix up my laughably bad German and my crappy Chinese, write more, wrestle more, fence more, cook more, etc. And yet, I have to constantly pick and choose.

Every day we’re given 24 hours to spend and I always find and I’m a day late and an hour short.

For the most part, I’ve cut out television – which has been huge – except for the news in the morning and the occasional Jeopardy contest with the wife.

For the most part.

Me: Do you think that a larger television would make our lives more fulfilling?
Her: No.
Me: OK, think about it for a bit and get back to me.

Location: my desk, still icing my damn leg
Mood: creative
Music: never one to be late, complain, express ideas in her brain
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The time I went to Bowlmor Lanes in Times Square Pt. 2

Gradually, then suddenly

To continue from last time, after we stuffed our faces and drank our fill (for the time being), a singer came out and belted a few tunes – I thought she was pretty good.

We ended up getting most of the bowling lanes to ourselves and played next to this blond couple that were hyper competitive.

Met a photographer with the same camera family as mine so we traded lens for a bit and I walked about looking for things to photograph.

Every so often, these incredibly tall models would float in and wait for the make-shift photo-studio near the lanes. Ended up chatting with one named Jamie-rae from exotic New Jersey.

Me: Dammit, knew I should have brought a step ladder. Try not to make me look too short, ok?
Her: (laughing) I’ll try.

I made my way to my buddies and had some more drinks – the rum situation had not improved so vodka was the word of the day.

Then it was time to go.

Me: Hey man, I better jet. (pause) You gonna be ok?
Him: Yeah. It comes and go.
Me: Life’s crazy, isn’t it? Everything’s gradually then suddenly.
Him: That’s exactly right.

Making my way home, kept thinking about Hemingway’s  gradually, then suddenly line that my wife told me about.

When I was in my late 20s and early 30s, there was a parade of friends getting married, then from early 30s to now, a parade of friends having kids. And now, all of these funerals.

This all happens gradually and then suddenly. Gotta admit that I dread the next suddenly.

Wife: How was it?
Me: Good. Some other things we can chat about later but it was good seeing the guys. (brightening) Wanna see some pics?
Her: Sure.

Location: wishing my brother a safe trip at the door
Mood: concerned
Music: We count our dollars on the train to the party
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Everyone believes very easily whatever he fears or desires

There’s a difference between real knowledge and junk food knowledge

I find Facebook and other social media to be a really enlightening look into the lives and workings of people I kinda know.

Not a day goes by when I don’t think about a quote from poet Jean De la Fontaine, who said that Everyone believes very easily whatever he fears or desires.

Every morning, I know that there will be a conspiracy theory from at least a dozen people on my list about how the NSA is trying to read my email to my mom, Monsanto secretly controls the world, or we’re all about to die from ______.

There’s also going to be the conservative rant from someone that says that Obama is ready to take all our guns and force us into hospitals next Thursday and the liberal rant that says that if we ignore the world’s problems, the world’s problems will ignore us.

More interesting to me is how often people mistake junk food intelligence for actual intelligence. They mistake some kernel of data for a self-proving fact, knowledge for intelligence.

The issue for me isn’t the spread of seriously questionable “knowledge.” It isn’t the childish simplification of seriously complex situations. It isn’t even the almost pathological willful ignorance.

It’s the fact that these people are bores.

Good god, stop being such a bore. It’s exhausting.

And it’s akin to walking around with spinach in your teeth and refusing to get rid of it. See the video below.

So why do I bother keeping them on? Because the danger is becoming one of them. To exclude opinions not in line with my own because I find them so ridiculous. It’s ignoring the balanced meal for the Happy Meal. After all, convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.

Moreover, who am I to say anything?

Me: (putting on shoes) I’m heading up to Harlem.
Her: Why?
Me: It’s the only place with a KFC.
Her: You’re going all the way to Harlem to go to KFC?
Me: (thinking) Yes.

Location: heading to the gym shortly
Mood: enjoying the fall-like temps again
Music: Sometimes I wish I could Calm the storm
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Good is the enemy of Great

Sometimes I wonder if I’m settling for my good life

Was driving the other day when I saw the food cart above. We have these tiny little cafe carts all over Manhattan in the mornings from 7AM to about 11AM that sell coffee and breads – like croissants, donuts, and muffins.

In any case, this enterprising fella took it a step further by offering office work. If you can’t read the sign, I’ve blown it up for you below.

It reads, “Photo Copy” – evidently he’s a one-stop shop for all things coffee, biscuit, and Xerox.

While it’s funny, I’m not mocking him. I always respect the people that dream bigger than the fish bowl they’ve been given.

After all, it’s why I like aged rum. It’s the little things we do have big impact in our lives.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if all my drive has left me. I used to have all these grand plans but my life is quite good. But, as Jim Collins put it in Good to Great:

Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.

As for me, sometimes I wonder if I’m settling for my good life.

Suppose the fact that I’m sleeping regularly for the first time in a while is a major reason why I’m not sure I should even want more out of life.

Everything has a price tag. It’s all about what you’re willing to pay.

Location: waiting for the summer heat to return
Mood: anxious
Music: Slow down my beating heart, a man dreams one day to fly
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More than the applause of the multitude

The respect of those you respect is worth more than the applause of the multitude

I write mainly because I have things in my head that I need to put somewhere.

But the reason I write publicly is because of three people: Mrs. Meltzer, Dr. Shapiro, and Stewart O’Nan.

The first two were my grade school and high school English teachers. They thought I was good but considering that my classmates weren’t exactly Hemingway, this was flattering but only so much so.

Stewart O’Nan was my college English teacher and he said I was good also – not great, but good. That meant a little more. But it wasn’t until I saw him on talk shows and read book reviews from him it became a source of pride for me.

Stewart O'Nan Read
Stewart O’Nan (Photo credit: Literary Gal)

I’d tell everyone. Like I’m telling you now.

Perhaps he said it to all his students. I like to think he just said it to me.

This fellow named Arnold Glasow once said that The respect of those you respect is worth more than the applause of the multitude.

Man, isn’t that the truth?

On a related note, my wrasslin coach Rene invented and perfected a move called The Rat Guard. It’s the go-to move in our gym.

And this absolutely brilliant and eccentric coach named Eddie Bravo actually made note of it – and my coach – recently on his podcast. Eddie Bravo’s a guy that changed everything about the game of fighting and mixed-martial arts. In fact, in my coach’s video below, which he did years ago, he specifically mentions him by name.

I’ve won a number of awards in my life and have done many things of which I am proud.

But the throwaway line O’Nan said to me as he hurriedly grabbed his stuff and ran out the door 22 years ago at the close of the year, is perhaps one of my most cherished.

It works in reverse too, doesn’t it?

Everyone may say that you’re the best at this or great at that, but if the one person that you value more than all the others says something unkind, the rest falls on deaf ears.

When parents say something to a child that’s cruel, it cuts the deepest.

That’s when you remind yourself that someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.

Signal versus noise; it’s always signal versus noise.

Location: back from the gym
Mood: proud
Music: there’s certain things in life you cannot change
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You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with

We become like the five people we spend the most time with

This fella named Jim Rohm, whom I’ve mentioned before, said something once that is the inverse of what I believe.

I believe that our friends mirror some quality of us. After all, people become our friends precisely because they see some part of the world we see.

For example, I don’t have any rabid football fans as friends because I’m not a rabid football friend.

Most of my friends are rum-swilling, chili- and gyro-eating, ambitious nerds because I’m a rum-swilling, chili- and gyro-eating, ambitious nerd. It’s my tribe.

But Jim Rohn said that we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with.

We become like the five people we spend the most time with.

I think this is true too and yet another reason why I end up cutting so many people out of my life – because I want to be around people that point me in the direction I want to go.

Wanna be at least half as good a writer as my writer friend, at least half as a wrestler as my coach, at least half as good a lawyer as my boss, at least half as good a fencer…

Oh, you get the point.

I have 11,680 days left. I want them to matter.

Looking at the silliness I call my life, had five tickets to give out. Think I’ve chosen wisely.


Location: caught in rain again, dammit
Mood: wet again
Music: I’ll admit I’m just the same as I was
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Growing into one’s self

Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong

Tree in the West Village

Me: Winston Churchill once said that, “Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.”
Him: Well that’s the thing, isn’t it? (thinking) “If they grow at all?”

Had lunch with my coach the other day and we were discussing this kid in our class. He’s one of the only teenagers we have and we all look out for him for various reasons. The life of a bullied child is a lonely one.

As luck would have it, tomorrow is Winston Churchill day so I thought the quote fitting.

Remember that scene in Forrest Gump where Forrest truly runs for the first time and realizes that the heavy, metal braces that held him back as a child let him run faster and longer than anyone else as an adult?

It made him antifragile.

Without belaboring the point, there were times when I was younger that I didn’t think I’d make it to adulthood.

I’m glad I stuck around because Churchill was right; I’m stronger because of my childhood rather than despite it.

Me: What are your thoughts on dive bars with wings?
Claire: I feel hugely positive about dive bars and wings.

Thought of that again as I had dinner with my friend Claire the other night. She said that she had a friend that grew into himself after college. I think that’s a good way to put it.

The lucky never realize they are lucky until it’s too late.

I should mention that while Claire, who moved here from LA, and I have written and chatted to each other for years, this was the first time we actually met in person.

Her: I’m glad you’re as nice in real life as you are over email.
Me: (laughing) I try to set the bar really low.

Life is made more bearable by the good souls.

As for the kid in our class, I hope he makes it past these hard times. If he can, I hope he’s the better for it.

As for me, my childhood seems farther and farther away these days. I’m turning 40 next week.

Still trying to process my thoughts on that.

Location: last night, my fave dive bars
Mood: sleepy
Music: I was a lonely soul but that’s the old me
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That the North Americans speak English

The little things we do have big impact in our lives

View of New York City's City Hall from Chinatown NYC

Him: I’m unemployed and live at home again. How’s this good?
Me: You have a college education, speak English, live in New York City, and were lucky enough to be born here. (gently) You’re doing better than mosta the world.

A quote that’s stayed with me my entire life’s from Otto von Bismark towards the end of his life. He was asked what he felt would be the most significant shaping event of the 20th century.

Rather than replying that it would be electricity, or firepower, or any of that, he said simply, That the North Americans speak English.

Speaking of which, there’s this interesting theory that part of why English, not French, is the world’s dominant language is because of barnacles on ships.

See, the English plated the hulls of their ships with copper, which stopped barnacles from growing. This meant they could move just slightly faster than French ships that had none.

The French lost control of the seas,  England became the a superpower by the 19th century, and I’m more Bugs Bunny than Pepe le Pew.

A fella recently asked me how I get so much done in my life. Thought immediately about the barnacle story. Cause big things happen with slight changes in trajectory. What’s a small change today can make a huge difference later on.

As a fat 13 year-old, decided to drink a cup of water before each meal. A slight change. Lost like 10 pounds that year. Then changed over to skim milk, lost another few pounds. Always tell people that I look young because of a combo of Asian genes and constant maintenance.

Anywho, back to my friend. He wants to know how to get things done. Told him that it’s all about fighting the inertia. He’s super talented but he’s held hostage by the fact he’s good enough. And good enough is enemy of great.

There’s no one huge leap from good enough to great, just lots of little steps – your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to take those little steps.

On that note, it’s a busy week for me. Nuthin big. Just lots of little things. Let’s see what happens.


Location: apartment, getting ready for the week
Mood: cheerful
Music: thinking about the good things to come and I believe it could be
YASYCTAI: Do one small thing today. (2 mins/0.5 pts)