The picture above is from my first day at school. My mom, oddly fearful of people in the future not knowing who was pictured or what was going on, staged the scene with my name and a questionable “school” sign. This may be the first time I ever had to wear a nametag. 

My mom always says, “If you don’t have to wear a name tag at work, you really made it.”

By her standards I made it years ago, but by Bay Area standards, I’m in my second week of making it: I work for a tech company that’s paying me well. I’m still adjusting to the job, but it seems great so far and the switch to technical writing and editing from mostly sales and CPG copy has been stimulating. 

It’s been fun to see the Silicon Valley stereotypes up close. I take two trains to get in to the office and get a lot of people watching in. One of the things I’ve noticed is how popular fancier versions of the classic Clark’s desert boot are for men. I’ve always gone in for the regular beeswax brown or black leather options, but dudes down here wear all manner of oddly colored and contrast stitched shoes. 

Plaid shirts or branded t-shirts are the norm for men. Women tend towards modest and patterned business casual. They are, on the whole less schlubby than their male counterparts. 

All manner of accessories are employed to better manage the commute. I’ve seen a smorgasbord of laptop backpacks, motorized skateboards and noise cancellation headphones in the last two weeks. It’s like a Sharper Image couture show. 

Personally, I haven’t changed really anything about my gear, but I do have my eyes on some nicer headphones (piped in office music is extremely distracting to me when I’m writing) and those Mission Workshop bags look pretty sturdy. I’d like to get myself a cool bicycle built up, but my trusty old Diamondback is holding up just fine. 

borges
The magnificent author Jean Luis Borges.

I like to give myself annual challenges. Last year I set out to write a blog post every day for a year. After the success of that project I set my sights on something equally as intellectually enriching. For 2017 I would read 100 books.

I came to this number because I saw quite a few people who set 50 as their goal and I have become increasingly competitive in just about every pursuit I value.

As of today I’m halfway there and 13 days ahead of schedule. There’s no particular guiding theme behind what I read. I own and frequently purchase books that are both old and new. I seem to have a habit of reading personal development books, but I enjoy fiction and memoir more. Interestingly enough, I think I’ve read more female authors this year than in any before it.

I spend time with a lot of books on business, writing, editing, and marketing because it’s my career and I believe you should be constantly increasing whatever skills put food on your plate, a roof over your head and ammo in the magazine. I stumbled into a pretty good career and now that I’m making a fairly substantial income (for me), I aim to become world class.

What humans do in extreme situations is of some interest to me, which is why I really enjoy war and addiction books.

If someone gives me a book to read, I’ll usually bump it up to the top of my list, though I don’t often follow up on suggestions unless the person is also a writer or an equally heavy reader. Another frequent influence on my list is my podcast, Scary Thoughts. Most of the philosophy and criticism I’ve read in the last year eventually shows up on the show.

A lot of people seem to think this is a brutally difficult goal, but it’s really not. It takes an average of a book every 3.65 days. Some books are shorter, some are longer. If you spend a little time in the morning and don’t watch Netflix at night, you could do this too. I have a brutal train commute thanks to my new job, which will give me even more opportunity to rip through pages.

I feel like I’ve learned more in the last six months than I did in my entire undergraduate course load. That line in Good Will Hunting about how you could get a better education than a Harvard one for some library late fees is legit. I actually wish I didn’t have such a fetish for owning books so I could enjoy just borrowing books. I’d save a ton of money.

In case you’re interested, here’s the list of what I’ve read so far (most recent first):

  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
  • A Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi
  • The Content Code by Mark W. Schaeffer
  • Extreme Ownership: How Navy Seals Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
  • Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
  • Chief Marketing Officers at Work by Josh Steimle
  • Men, Women and Chainsaw: Gender in the Modern Horror Film by Carol Clover
  • Come and Take It: The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free by Cody Wilson
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  • The Simple Path to Wealth: Your Road Map to Financial Independence and a Rich, Free Life by JL Collins
  • The Like Switch: An FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over by Jack Scaefer, P.h.D. with Marvin Karlins, P.h.D
  • The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
  • What Doesn’t Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength by Scott Carney
  • Crush It! Why NOW is the Time to Cash in On Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk
  • The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trial Into Triumph by Ryan Holiday
  • Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
  • Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smalville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison
  • Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste by Carl Wilson
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess
  • So Sad Today by Melissa Broder
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanne Clarke
  • A Long Slow Screw by Eugene S. Robinson
  • Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors by George W. Bush
  • The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
  • Voice of the Fire by Alan Moore
  • Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
  • Lunatic Heroes: Memories, Lies and Reflections by C. Anthony Martignetti
  • Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing
  • How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
  • Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus
  • Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  • The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman
  • Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom by Ursula Nordstrom
  • Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  • I Remember the Last War by Bob Hoffman
  • Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susanne
  • Conversations with Capote by Lawrence Grobel
  • Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters by Major Dick Winters
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
  • Becoming a Barbarian by Jack Donovan
  • The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley, P.h.D. and William D. Danko, P.h.D.
  • True Allegiance by Ben Shaprio
  • Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
  • Kamikaze:  A Japanese Pilot’s Own Spectacular Story of the Famous Suicide Squadrons by Yasuo Kuwahara and Gordon T. Allred
  • Hard-Core Life of My Own by Harley Flanagan
  • The Queue by Basma Abdel Aziz

 

 

 

 

 

Alameda_Food_Bank3

Mrs. Lott has a way of forcing me to do things I should do, but never actually make time to do. She was a big part of my decision to start taking classes at City College a decade ago. She encouraged me to go hard for this great new job I have. This morning we volunteered at the Alameda Food Bank, even though I desperately wanted to sleep in.

She signed us up about a month ago and I agreed, thinking I’d get out of it somehow.  We were up late last night at a party thrown at an insanely weird Airbnb in the Berkeley Hills built for rich sex cultists. We were celebrating her co-worker’s birthday, so there was no extramarital fornication. The place looked like it was owned by Jackie Treehorn from The Big Lebowski. There were dozens of little hideaways in the house and more than enough clues to indicate what usually goes on in this slightly feral architectural wonder is probably on the Eyes Wide Shut spectrum.

Like us, the celebrants were monogamous (as far as I know), and other than the possible destruction of a very expensive espresso machine, nothing too wild happened while we were there. That’s not the point of this story, anyway.

The Alameda Food Bank is a great organization. It deserves your donations and your time if you live near it. The money they receive is put to good use and almost all of it gets turned directly into food for the people who need it.

Most of the help needed from volunteers is sorting donated food in their warehouse or helping to hand it out on pickup days. If you’re able to pick up 50lb bags of apples and potatoes, you will be put to use hauling heavy things around and sorting them into more manageable sized  bags for people to take home. Most of my three hour shift was spent carrying large boxes around and bagging broccoli. I love this sort of work.

Mrs. Lott was assigned to the front of house and helped people shop when they arrived. This food bank has a very cool system where people are allowed to choose what they want ahead of time and volunteers guide them to different stations, making sure they get what’s on their list. The food is actually pretty healthy, there is a lot of produce and the packaged goods are solid staples.

The people who use the food bank come from all walks of life because food insecurity affects people from all kinds of backgrounds. The volunteers are about as diverse as the people they serve. About a dozen strong backed young men from a college fraternity worked alongside old white hippies, Chinese retirees, Mexican high school students and moms from Alameda. These are great people.

I made two new friends I hope to see again the next time I volunteer. The first was a retired motorcycle mechanic in his late 60s who has been riding Japanese motorcycles since the 70s. I always love talking to these grey-beard-gear-heads because I have a strong fondness for the bikes they rode when they were young. I love hearing about what it was like to buy a brand new KZ1000 from a dealership and smash it across the country. For some reason they always seem shocked that I owned a Yamaha RD400 and a Honda Dream in my 20s.

The second friend was a lady from the Philippines in her 60s. She survived breast cancer about 18 years ago and has been making a major go at life ever since. She eats healthy and goes to the gym all the time. Yesterday she went to two Zumba classes, speed walked on a treadmill for two hours and played basketball with her friends afterwards. Her energy was out of control.

I’m definitely going to make this a monthly thing. As much as the Alameda Food Bank appreciates the help, the truth is, I think I got more out of it than they did. I had really fun conversations and got a pretty solid workout in. But more than that, I got out of my own head for a little while. You can’t feel anxiety or any of the other bullshit that keeps you down when you’re serving others. It’s sort of like the Spartan thing, don’t worry about yourself, worry about the person next to you.

If you live in the Bay Area and you want to volunteer with me, I’d love you to be there. This is the real work that needs doing, not the self congratulatory nonsense political cosplay you see on the internet. That shit is for losers. Don’t be a loser. Be someone who helps people.

If you can’t make it out yourself, please consider a making donation: http://www.alamedafoodbank.org/donate/