Mohja Kahf’s ‘Copulation in English’

We are going to dip English backward
by its Shakespearean tresses
arcing its spine like a crescent
We are going to rewrite English in Arabic
(Arabic script: how sweet, how sweet)

 

and all the languages of our blood
We are going to give English the makeover of its lifetime,
darkening the rims of its eyes with Hindi antimony,
making it blush Farsi roses
(Arabic script: the night, the night)

 

We are going to make English dizzy
until English vomits its history,
Norman, Saxon, Celtic, down
to its Druid dregs
We won’t stop playing with English
We are the new bullies in the schoolyard
and we like the merry-go-round of nouns and adjectives
and onomatopoetics and objective correlatives

 

We will bewilder English in Aramaic of Jesus
(Arabic script: My Lord, my lord, why have you forsaken me?)
We know its biblical heart better than it knows itself
and hold the blades of these lilies-of-the-valley
against its jugular vein

 

We are going to make English love us
And kiss us and explore us with its tongues
Then we will play hard-to-get
and English will have to phone
and leave a message after message of desire on our machines
English will have to learn what to say to please us:
(Arabic script: “I humbled myself until even me enemy wept for me.”)

 

English has never tasted anything this purple,
Seen mangos this bursting, trickling down its poems,
pomegranates spraying the tart red seeds
over its stories like white white linen
English has never smelled the cardamom this ecstatic
or breathed rhetoric this thick with love

 

English will come to us hoarse with passion
we will have taught English to have
and English will never be the same and will never regret us
Although, after this night of intense copulation,

we may slaughter English in its bed and redeem our honor,
even while pregnant with English’s bastard
(Arabic script: “Here comes the dawn upon us like a fire.”)

The Affluence of Nostalgia

A long time ago I made a very simple decision. When I burned a new mix CD (yes, we did that)—almost always to play in my car to idle and drive around aimlessly—I took a sharpie and added the date on the front of the burn date.

Simple. A timestamp before a timestamp was thrown on everything.

At the time, I think it was simply a way to recognize which were new(er) CDs and which were older. Now, however, these have become my own personal archeology and I’m so thankful to my former self(ves) for doing this.

What it’s allowed for is a perfect nostalgia—giving me the opportunity to listen as I listened years before. The same songs still play out of that disc, though all else has changed.

_____________

Lately, I’ve been wishing I wrote a journal growing up. Some of this is due to trying to attach feelings retroactively to events in my life (birthdays, breakups, big decisions, etc…)—though part of it is just to better form a timeline of my growing into who I am today.

Who was I at 16? At 23?

Lately, the lack of those answers AND the knowledge that this person too should fade into the background has made me sad. Fleeting, this all is—even you, even me.

This kind of scattered, wanting nostalgia has become all the more prevalent as I’ve moved back to my hometown of Chicago and find myself driving streets I once drove a decade ago. I drive past the Aragon where I used to go to shows. See the skyline sitting prominently as its backdropped self. Big shoulders. Old shoulders. The shoulders I’ve known.

What do to with the memories as they rush back? Where to place them if not to know the person to who they originally belonged? I think this is the platform of nostalgia—we cannot know these past people, but we can know their experiences. And they can rush back with a richness once unlocked by something.

I think of Odyssesus. It took him 10 years to get back to Ithaca. It took me 9 to come back here.

Is this to be my kingdom? And am I to rest, contented in this lifestyle and learned from the past.

Or do I take our hero as Tennyson wrote him, yearning to move:

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’

Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades

For ever and forever when I move.

_____________

These feelings collided recently when flipping through some old CDs on my way to work I came across the disc pictured here. It’s date—11/6/08—was exactly 7 years prior to picking it up.

20151104_083349

For no other reason than the alignment of dates, I was struck. I brain-stepped into a kind of corny nostalgia I swore I’d never put myself into.

There are easy things to glean from the track list (in full at the bottom). Clearly I was as into singer/songwriters as ever—25 of the 36 tracks are by artists of [First Name] [Last Name] nomenclature. A few artists pop up three times (Springsteen, Dylan, Morrison), but none more than that.

Others take a second of investigation. Young Jeezy? Ahh, yes. November 6th, 2015 would have been just two days after the 2008 election. I don’t have much memory of the days following election day, but I’ll always remember that night—watching the results come in, going to the Plaza after Obama won and drinking to what felt, then, like a new world.

What else do I know? In late 2008, I was working at Epic in Verona, WI—part-time outside of school to make some extra money. The job involved a 30-minute drive out to the suburbs of Madison. An hour each way is probably good enough reason to make not one, but two CDs.

The rest? I don’t know. I probably will never know. But I can start to construct at least some memory—of me listening to these CDs while driving in Madison on my way to&from Epic—and know that new memories will be made as I listen to/from the suburbs or my job at Uber or elsewhere. It’s never just one thing. We’re blessed with multitudes constantly in the millions—and that makes it tough to hold on to anything, really.

The larger question here is what to make of this nostalgia? Is it useful? Worthwhile? Damaging?

As a traveler, part of me says to pick up & move on. Baggage is a burden; weight a hindrance. If we’re stuck somewhere in the past, how do we enjoy the present?

But lately, part of me wants to squeeze these moments. These precious construction bits of who I am today. Understandings of what laid the road to now (in hopes of being evermore present). The affluence of nostalgia provides knowledge and color to our lives. It brings stories and failures; forgotten hopes and stillwater dreams. I look back on the last 7 years and there are moments of immense, unrepeatable joy.

I think about racing to write them all down. To revisit them later as a laundry list of accomplishment. But that’s not the right move. That doesn’t seem like it, anyway.

What is right? I don’t know.

One right move seems to be to smile at our own pasts, the heavy and the light, the suns and moons that have come before. They’ve landed us here and blanketed us with experience.

But nostalgia is not a one-sided thing. There are aches that feel wrong to smile at.

Perhaps, then, the affluence is also a complication. And someday we’ll get to decide how we’ll look back not just on our experiences but also on said nostalgia itself.

Life was once simple, I think. It must have been.

Insert disc.

Play.

TRACK LISTING — MIX 11/6/2008

DISC#1

  1. Bruce Springsteen – Thunder Road
  2. Bruce Springsteen – The River
  3. Kate Nash – Mariella
  4. Ryan Adams – Sylvia Plath
  5. Elton John – Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters
  6. Johnny Cash – Desperado
  7. Paul Simon – A Simple Desultory Philippic
  8.  The National – Fashion Coat
  9. Arlo Guthrie – The City of New Orleans
  10. Jeff Buckley – Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind
  11. Creedence Clearwater Revival — Lodi
  12. Radiohead – Jigsaw Falling Into Place
  13. Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees
  14. Bob Dylan – Spanish Harlem Incident
  15. Pavement – Here
  16. Pavement – Give It A Day
  17. Bruce Springsteen – Rosalita
  18. Conor Oberst – Sausalito

Disc #2

  1. Young Jeezy – My President Is Black
  2. Liz Phair – Never Said
  3. Liz Phair – 6’1
  4. Van Morrison – The Way Young Lovers Do
  5. Ryan Adams – Answering Bell
  6. The Beatles – A Day In The Life
  7. Tom Petty – It’s Good To Be King
  8. Tom Petty – Time To Move On
  9. Van Morrison — Caravan
  10. Van Morrison – Moondance
  11. Bob Dylan – It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
  12. R. Kelly – Sex In The Kitchen
  13. Scott McKenzie – San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)
  14. The Byrds – Turn, Turn, Turn
  15. Radiohead – Idioteque
  16. Josh Ritter – Wolves
  17. Bob Dylan – To Ramona
  18. Janis Joplin — Piece of My Heart

In Profile: Lindsey Grant

lindsey pic“What’s it like to be a 12-year-old these days?”

“Well, let me tell about a day in the life of me,” Lindsey Grant responded. Beaming with enthusiasm, unabashed to share a story, a day, a viewpoint—a look on the inside of 7th grade complications.

“I get up at 5:45 to go to school at 7:40. Because to a 12 year old you need a lot of time to get ready. Or at least 12 year old girls need that much time to get ready.”

Grant is that self-described 12-year-old girl. The one who after spending all that time getting ready “spends 6 hours on my iPad at school” (said with the roll of the eyes). She is a high-achieving 7th grade student, busied with homework, after-school extracurriculars, and a social life to always be on top of.

She sat down with me for an interview and allowed me to follow her through her Thanksgiving holiday which she spent with her mother and her older siblings.

Pre-interview she toggled around her iPhone and showed me an intricate Thanksgiving message she sent to a friend made up of about 250 emojis carefully arranged to look like a road and some turkeys. She sat tall and talked loud. Earlier in the day she asked us if we knew the nae-nae. Or the dab. Or something else I can’t remember.

The crowd was all older than 25. No one knew. Grant rolled her eyes. Again.

“I was the bonus baby,” she said, “as my mom said.” She’s 13 years younger than her closest sibling and admitted to growing up much like an only child—a category she’s quick to defend as not all self-obsessed and catered to. She admitted her growing up was easier than others and her relationship with her family strong because she had the atypical generational mismatch.

“I only saw my siblings every so often. So we didn’t fight,” she said. “I think that’s taught me to not fight with others too.”

On top of school requirements, Grant plays lacrosse, practices the viola, sings in the school choir, reads teen fiction, and watches TV shows on Netflix. Often all in the same day. Her calendar is busier than mine, and most of the adults I know.

When I asked if this weighs on her, she was quick to brush it off. That’s what gives me energy, she said.

_____________

No kid these days is safe from a discussion about technology. Grant keeps her iPhone close. She picked it up more than a few times during our chat. She can scroll and glean with hardly any attention or energy. Such is the way of our youth—they’re very good at not paying attention.

Grant has a grasp on her generation and its ties to the smartphone. She laments the loss of the personable communication she might have seen from her parents or siblings’ generations—and pokes fun at those tangled in the technology.

“I mean c’mon,” she said. “We spent, what, like, 10 years without phones.”

Fair point. But 10 years ago, Grant was 2.

And yet it’s not just the technology itself, it’s the derivations of it. As she explained, “the problem with social media is you see exactly what you’re being left out of.”

For her part, Grant tries to limit the extent of her technological reliance. This isn’t easy—homework, like the work done during the school day is done entirely on an iPad. Grades are posted in near real-time, and are checked much the same.

Any friend is just a text away. Her world exchanges information not through newspapers, but on Instagram updates, Snapchat snaps, and text  enjambments of hieroglyphic emoji sequences.

She, however, only has seven apps that are not entirely pertinent to some specific cause. She won’t download more. And if she does she needs to remove one of the current seven. It’s a surprisingly disciplined system for a young girl with all of 16gb storage. We’re not used to see children keep such rules; it seems to be the exact opposite of the way we color the boundarylessness of youth.

And yet Grant is happy with her self-limiting. There are still books to explore. An outside world to “play in” and creative projects to begin, abandon, and begin again.

___________

Grant talked about coming into her own. “I used to be shy,” she said. It’s hardly believable the way she communicates so confidently.

She spoke of her transition. Earning her confidence. Speaking her mind. “If you asked me five years ago, I was not as outgoing as I am now. When I was younger, I didn’t have as many friends.”

Grant’s sister spent time as an actress who encouraged a love for the theater. “If you’re willing to go on the stage, you can be who you want.”

Through this, she says she became “more” herself. Confident. Consistent. Loud. It’s an interesting paradox, becoming yourself by thinking about others being someone else.

____________

12 years in isn’t exactly a marathon, so there’s a lot to look forward to.

What exactly is it that Grant wants from her future? I asked her point blank.

“Well,” she began, “as you can tell I’ve thought about this before.”

On her list?

Go to a good college. Have a decent-sized family. A job like a teacher…. Or a reporter….Or work at Google. (“Because have you seen their office?”)

“I just have big hopes that I’ll be someone people can rely on,” is how she ended that thought.

The future will have to wait. For now there are assignments to finish and grades to earn.

Ahh, grades.

Grades are what Grant calls her “biggest problem” these days, and though she recognizes the pettiness in that idea, there’s no escaping the call of duty for grade-schoolers. So much conflict and torment tied to a single letter.

“We all just want to make our parents happy,” she said in regards to grades.

Certainly Grant’s parents must be happy. Her last report card was filled with A’s and she speaks at an intelligent and mature level about her life.

And Grant insisted her classmates, and those of her generation are keeping up with the times and educating themselves just the same.

“We know what’s going on,” she said of her peers, making one feel the incredulity our adult-selves put on children as ignorant to the passings of the world. “Half the kids in my school keep up with the political dates. And we actually listen to the news. And care about what’s happening.”

Perhaps we’ve forgotten to exclaim that children are the future. Even if it’s a future we imagine with artificial intelligence, global warming, and the sphere of influence moving toward the developing world.

The way Grant tells it we have much to look forward to. That we’re in good hands.

But what’s the limit of what one 12-year-old girl knows anyway?

I found one when I asked a high-level question about “people” in the world (a reflection on 7 billion). She started her answer with “well, in my school” (a junior high of 300). And then you remember that her scope is small and limited. but perhaps that’s not anything to write of.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance there’s an exercise in which a writing teacher asks students to describe their hometown. One pupil struggles. She  can’t think of where to start. Her hometown is large and abstract—hard to pin down in a writing assignment.The teacher’s instruction was to start small. Think about City Hall, he said. Think about just one brick in that building and start describing that. Once you have, go bigger. The next brick. The row. The building. The street. The town. And there you have it.

Grant is still young and although she keeps a thumb on the larger world, it’s hard to allow her to speak for the entire population. On a daily basis, after all, she doesn’t converse with anyone who has gone to war, paid into social security, or refinanced a mortgage.

And yet there’s something to be said about the more immediate focus. The seeing of herself amongst her class and her peers of 12-year-olds—maybe there’s something to it. Maybe that’s the starting point we miss out when we diagnose our species of its ills and wills. Maybe.

That question will have to remain sitting there for now. It’s time to practice the Viola and then math homework and scrolling through the new posts on Instagram and then it’s time for sleep because 5:45am comes around early and there’ll be decisions to make before school starts.

In Profile: Eugene Granovsky

eugene pic“So, what’s the end goal?” I asked.

“There is no end goal,” he said. “I feel like I’m already there. I’m already very, very happy.”

I asked Eugene Granovsky to go a bit further.

“Nothing?” I repeated.

“Look,” he said. “My entire goal was to take a couple swings of the bat at this thing.”

This thing is entrepreneurship. Working for himself. Taking an idea and making it into something. Building, constructing, executing.

“Now, I know I can swing indefinitely.”

Well, who’s swinging? And at what?

______

Born in Moscow, Granovsky came to the United States when he was seven, almost immediately settling in Chicago. He’s been here ever since. He has an Eastern European face—a curly-haired Mayakovsky look in a button-down and sweater.

I’ve only met Granovsky once—on a chilly Chicago Sunday at Lovely Bakeshop. He wore a sweater and boots, comfortable in the coffee shop he said he works out of everyday. “It’s nice to work at a place people know me,” he said. (Ironic, somewhat, considering this is what most people’s office is like).

He spends almost 7 days a week at Lovely (the coffee shop). He takes all of his meetings there. He knows the staff. He looked at my breakfast sandwich and nodded approvingly.

We started our interview running through his work history. It began by studying Engineering at the University of Illinois. Then a job in the Energy sector. He talks about this a lot—Energy— a place he’s found himself working over these years. A place he’s carved out his own space in.

After that job it was on to Consulting. 5 years in that. Then came the questions—what to do next? Where to go? What did he want?

He had dreamt of traveling and wrangled out a 3-month sabbatical in Barcelona. There, he studied entrepreneurship furiously, diving into the wide pool of blogs, articles, and books on the topic. He came back to the States and his consulting job ready to leave. He saved money, moonlighted on startup ideas, pinpointed a departure date, and found a business partner at a nearly identical point in his life.

It wasn’t Granovsky’s first foray into entrepreneurship. He had a business when he first got to college—making about $3,000 per month at its peak, which isn’t exactly loose change for a student.

Let’s just say, the business wasn’t your typical freshman get-rich-quick scheme. It wasn’t gameday t-shirts and it wasn’t drugs. It was a “translational” business run through a popular video game that involved buying replicated currencies from China, selling them in-game and cashing out on items of actual value. Eventually, Granovsky faced some complication and couldn’t run his business through PayPal as its terms of services didn’t guarantee digital items. It folded. Business over—lessons learned.

As he transitioned out of consulting, he worked with a friend on new business ideas. They tried a few out. Nothing stuck.

But then, Granovsky noticed that an app they both used regularly wasn’t being updated, so he cold emailed the programmer. He sold it to Granovsky. It was a habit-building app called AskMeEvery and became the first project to really dive into.

“We worked on it for like 8 or 9 months,” he said. “But it taught us so much.” The app was featured on blogs, in Techcrunch, and the two gained some real users.

“He was going to be the programmer and I was the business guy,” he said. “But he left this job six months before I did and started building. By the time I quit I wasn’t even needed. We did it ass backward.”

AskMeEvery involved some pivoting once it took off a bit more. Granovsky had to learn fast that adaptation was key to keeping users.

The two decided to let things go after their 9-month run and parted ways, though they’ve stayed good friends. Granovsky went off and decided to explore his own ideas.

He originally discounted his consulting years—surely starting businesses would be be a totally different ballgame than consulting for them—but found that crucial experiences carried over. “I have no issue going into a business and selling,” he said, pointing to something he undoubtedly sees other entrepreneurs struggling with.

Soon he had built a successful freelancing career, fielding too many projects and request to fulfill.

Granovsky talks fast and rarely pauses. There were very few “likes” or “umms” in his speech pattern, and he carried an enthusiasm to him when he spoke of his own life’s story. Energy may be his preferred sector and it must too be a noun that sticks close to his persona. One gets the idea that he might never stop—and remember, there’s no end goal in the distance. Perhaps there’s just an inertia to move forward—an energy.

 His is an interesting story of evolution—less sharp turns and more slow pivots, which he’s mirrored in his approach to business and startups. He’s made calculated, precise changes. He’s specific about where he spends his own energy—he won’t interrupt a working session by reading an email or an article. He thinks deeply on what he wants—not four houses, not a fancy watch, not a unicorn business.

 

It’s unclear exactly what it is that he does want, only that he’s found something he was looking for—the chance to keep swinging that bat whenever he decides to pick it up.

And where has this all gotten him?

Granovsky is the CEO of Currenthub, a CRM-type tool for retail-electric brokers. On top of that he has more than a handful of projects he’s currently working on. His clients are businesses (“I’ve gotten as far as from B2C (business-to-consumer) as I can” he said), and they range in scope and size. He programs, he sells, he consults. All from a table and a laptop—usually at Lovely.

The plate is full, so to speak.

__________

These days, Granovksy uses a 4-point criteria scale for evaluating whether to jump into another project.

The four-points—and he’ll actually go through the process of grading these on a piece of paper—Is the project…

  1. Energy related?
  2. Well-paid or does it have the potential to be?
  3. Front-end related?
  4. Interesting?

He shoots for projects that hit at least 3 of these points; though when he started he would take some hitting only 2. As things progress, of course, he’ll aim for perfect scores—but we’re not there yet.

Later, he pointed out that “time” was not an element on the scale. This means he’s as likely to take on a one-day project as a one-year one; provided, of course, that it hits the criteria notes.

This spoke to what he considered—or what he’s been told is—his greatest strength: patience. He’s able to sit with things, and sit with them for as long as is needed to uncover the truth. This he considers a fundamental skill.

It’s also a hard lesson he had to learn, perhaps the hard way. One thing that “calmed [him] down” was the realization that his journey as an entrepreneur would surely be a long one. Articles and interviews that discussed a timeline of 3-4 years made him feel better, instead of deflating. It would be a marathon, not a sprint—and one that will require a lot of patience.

The mindset has to be based on this “long process,” he said. “Don’t kill yourself doing it.”

These are hard truths. Easy to say, harder to live. But it’s the change Granovsky wants to see in the broader world—to “really, really sit with things,” he said. That’s what we need—the kind of self-awareness that comes from hard questions, and hard questions only.

__________

Granovsky doesn’t set false expectations about entrepreneurship. The startup world is hard and busy. It’s a long road and there’s a lot of work to be done. There may be no personal end goal, but there’s also no easy rest stops along the way. The work continues.

He spoke candidly of his transition to the life he lives now. “When you quit after 8 years in the workforce, there were mornings I was just sitting on OKCupid for an hour and a half. On a Tuesday. Because I can.”

Those days are left to the past. More long days at Lovely lurk ahead. More people will come; more will pitch their projects and Granovsky will pit them on the 4-point evaluation scale. There’s always more waiting to be done.

Energy, after all, doesn’t just create itself. And each swing of the bat requires a little bit more.

In Profile: Jordan Tivers

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 9.31.30 AMEvery conversation with Jordan Tivers is, more or less, an interview.

By this I don’t mean the standard question and answer format, the one-sided focus, nor the intent of either side to either reveal or have something revealed.

What I do mean is that, in any audible moment, Tivers is likely to provide the rare honesty and open-door scrutability usually reserved for interviews.

This profile was constructed over several conversations with Tivers and one focused 40-minute interview, the contents of which are nearly indecipherable as to which format it was produced from. His verbal offerings come agnostic of atmosphere and context.

Tivers is a native of suburban Chicago, a former student in Iowa City and New Orleans, and a former professional in Austin. His relocation to Chicago (“homecoming” as it was put more than once) came after an epiphanic trip back in March and the feeling in his gut that this was where he belonged—amongst family and old friends.

The various things other cities lacked for him—diversity, public transportation, real connection opportunities—were all things he saw in Chicago and has found in his short stint here so far. He lives on the north side, in an open studio apartment designed for his habits and lifestyle.

He describes the Chicago he loves in a hodge-podge manner, bringing people together in a way only few big cities can.

And if there’s something that speaks to Tivers it’s people. He talks about loving the EL; but in strictly people terms. “It has all walks of life on it,” he says, not mentioning the actual utility of it being a mode of transport.

He talks about his love for hip-hop music by talking about the performers who make it. His childhood experiences are wrapped around interactions with family members, with friends, with opponents on the basketball court. The monuments demarcating the world of Jordan Tivers have faces, and hands with fingernails, and hearts.

And so it comes as little surprise that his work is wrapped around the experience of intimately connecting with other people.

It was back in New Orleans he finished graduate school in Social Work and became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). It’s in this field—his field—that he’s prospered, specializing in group therapy and honing a deep understanding in addiction therapies of several kinds.

If you want to see an animated Tivers, his career is one way to bring it about. He can talk about it (“my mecca”) all day. Though he’s not hooked in 24/7—in fact he goes great lengths to keep a balance between his working life and his life life (we’ll get there)—it’s inarguably clear that he’s found a line of profession that provides him avenues for passion and curiosity that seem limitless.

His professional goal is simple: help his patients with self-growth. And yet he’s quick to point out that that’s not the highest priority.

“Work is not my priority,” he says. “My priority is balance. First is that.”

It seems at first blush like this might be a trite selfishness or a paradox until you break it down further. Self-growth is a intensely personal goal. To bring this to a patient is not something unlocked externally. Tivers cannot be a magician with a wand that wills magic to occur. And so the internal journey that Tivers wants to see in his patients must also be a part of him. (One is reminded of Rilke: “the only journey is the one within”).

And so fundamental to Tivers’ success at work is the energy he turns on himself. It’s imperative, then, to understand the journey that has made him himself. And it’s the self-curiosity to continually examine, meditate, and uncover that allows for a deep curiosity in his patients, his friends, and the strangers he meets.

“Being a therapist is the greatest thing in the world,” he says. “When people bring their dark side, it’s an intimate thing and I don’t take that lightly.”

His does not speak lightly of his own dark times in his youth. There was lots of good  he’s quick to mention, but also lots of hardship—most of this due to struggling to understand who he was, or feeling pushed to be something he was not. For years, he was devastatingly hard on himself.

In these reflections, anxiety comes up in several stories; and in more than a dozen costumes. It wasn’t easy to overcome this all, and perhaps he hasn’t. But he’s certainly come a long way. He’s written a lot about these times, even drafting a book about this journey.

Things began to change for him in college. The shift was hard; with fears of losing everything he held to be good. He needed space to find himself.  He lost friends. He gave up a serious relationship. He had to question everything in his life. Those were trying times.

These days, he speaks of mindfulness and buddhism practices. He speaks of emotionality and mental health. He sees when anxiety rears its head and has methods to cope. He wants you to understand how far he’s come—not for his ego, but so you too will not take lightly the honesty he proffers.

“The judgments you carry yourself, you’re going to put those on other people,” he says. And he says it like a warning.

He’s impossibly energetic, engaging, and enthusiastic about his work—something rarely seen in most young professionals, let alone those who delve into the darker pockets of our society. It’s hard not to imagine him walking down the wide and well-lit hallway of success when it comes to his line of work.

____________

Back to our conversation. Some of the quotable Tivers:

“[calendar] Dates are really important for me.”

“I want to be felt and I want others to be seen.”

“There’s something really beautiful about talking to a stranger. People are missing out on that.”

{On dating apps}: “I get it intellectually….but people do not take many risks now. “We’re robbing ourselves of emotional experiences.”

Some word counts from our 40-mintue interview:

  • Emotionality: 7
  • Authentic: 9
  • Playful: 7
  • Buddhism: 8

____________

There’s another word that comes up more than once that I couldn’t get out of my head. It seemed to fundamental in the whole of the parts we uncovered. That word is contrivance (in its different forms: contrive, contrived, contriving).

This is the villain in Tivers’ world. It’s to be avoided at all costs. It’s this that hurts him most when looking around. Others constructing their own images. Constantly and anxiously tinkering with their own presentation. You find it in the restaurants, the bars, the dating apps, the school hallways of our already damaged youth.

It’s, in short, the opposite of authenticity—his highest value. And it’s high on his mission list to help solve.

This harkens back to the idea of conversations with Tivers being like an interview. In correspondences, we tend to keep ourselves a bit contrived. We reveal what we feel is best; and shutter the doors on some real parts of ourselves we’re not ready to open the window to. We act before allowing any vulnerability. We self-manage rather than self-SCUBA-dive deep.

One wonders how often, if ever, Tivers allows himself to take the easy street of contrived anything. These days, it’s so easy. So much begs us to surrender our true selves for the sweet safety of conformability. If it’s easy to say “always be your true self”, then it can’t be easy to fit in with everyday life as such.

Tivers has managed this in his own ways. He rarely uses apps on his phone. He drinks little. He’s the kind of guy who still asks girls out on dates in person. He doesn’t own a TV, rarely talks about his Netflix queue, and doesn’t talk about new restaurants he just-can’t-wait-to-go-to.

And still it’s worth asking: what does one give up to strive for authenticity? Where is the room for our vulnerable population amongst the electronic walls we put up as we laser-focus on our phones? I have no doubt Tivers has ruminated on these uncertainties. Ask him about it when you see him; he won’t be shy with answers.

____________

There’s a self-examination activity I did a while back. It’s a simple exercise, consisting of just one question. The question is “how do you love?

The answers can be whatever comes to mind. As soon as you answer this once, though, you’re pushed to answer again. And again, and again. You go on naming ways you love for several minutes—or until you run out of ideas.

After everyone’s finished, the idea of the activity is explained a bit further.

Think of how many things you named that were ways of showing love to others; and how many were ways you love yourself.

For most of us, the latter was noticeably less. We tend to think of love as something we give to others, and can unfortunately neglect to provide for ourselves.

I asked Tivers to answer this question for a full 60 seconds, listing as many line items as he could on how he shows love. He listed 14. Everyone single one was internally focused. Ways he showed love in something he did for himself.

His story is one of toiling for years in a deep well of not being himself. Now, he has emerged loving himself; tried and true. It wasn’t easy. It’s never easy.

Self-love is on the path of self-growth—and you’ll certainly find Tivers on it, though it’s hard to know where it’ll eventually take him. Or you. But he’s an open book—ready at any instant to talk or to listen—if you’re willing to come along for the mysterious, wild, and wonderful ride ahead.

In Profile: Mark Moschel

mark m picThere’s this saying that I’ve seen going around more and more lately. It goes, “people don’t remember what you say or do, they remember how you make them feel”. It’s a fine platitude, but it misses out on something.

What it misses, I believe, is those rare times you’re given a nugget of truth or beauty. When you meet someone who genuinely offers wisdom, you tend to remember it. This is particularly true of one certain branch of wisdom—practical wisdom.

One example is upon hearing a particular method or trick that’s told to make your life better—we find ourselves remembering these.  We’re always looking for the nearest road to improvement.

After talking with Mark Moschel one retains more than a few tidbits of what was said, and remembers them precisely.

Moschel is currently the CTO of Chicago’s Factor 75 and describes himself as an Entrepreneur and Writer, though he’s quick to point out that labels aren’t exactly his thing. “We’re all just trying to figure out who we are,” he says. In his case, he’ll have to pick from where to hang off a dozen different branches if he needed one specific label.

It’s perhaps his fixation upon non-fixation that allows for a great breadth of practical wisdom. In one conversation, he can talk about techniques for jumping higher, or talk about artificial intelligence with enough forward-thinking to make your head spin.

This idea of practical wisdom seems to permeate around him, always. It’s not a true intelligence for it requires deeper thinking and inquiry into truth. And it’s not spirituality, because it has to be grounded somewhere and on something.

Interviewing Moschel one is struck by how much he knows—and how little he allows himself to be content to know. It’s curiosity that drives him, almost for the sake of remaining curious. There’s no endgame in sight, he says.

We first meet on a Sunday at Lovely, a cafe in Chicago’s Wicker Park. He’s upbeat—chipper in basketball shorts and a light black sweater. Moschel’s sad we can’t sit outside, but we find a table and he immediately pulls out a notebook. He’ll be taking notes on our conversation, and one imagines he does this with most of his coffee shops chats. He is, after all, a learner.

In addition to his pursuits above, Moschel runs the local “biohacking” organization in Chicago. Each month, he gathers a group together to listen to speakers, debate new ideas, and test out recent innovations in the area. For those not in the know, biohacking is the idea of optimizing the natural state of your body for peak performance. It is, if one needed to pinpoint it, the nucleus of Moschel’s life.

In one way or another, most of our conversations come back to something in the biohacking world. Whether it’s habit formation, healthy eating, or being curious about your own self—we find ourselves hovering around this sun every few minutes.

I ask how he got to be this way. That opens a can of worms. We’ll get there.

First, let’s understand Moschel himself. He’s short and pale, and well-built and energetic. His dress is more set for a pick-up basketball game than a restaurant. He consistently carries a backpack with him with his computer, a notebook half filled in, and probably a book or two (he’s always reading something).

Moschel grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, a pocket of comfort that tends to breed conformity. For a few years, he followed a familiar line—school in Champaign, work at Accenture out of it. All was set for the easy road upward.

But there were things along the way that deviated him from this path. He read Seneca and thought hard on stoicism. He found out he had an irregular heartbeat—a pure inefficiency at the heart (excuse the pun) of himself. He witnessed a classmate dying in Champaign right in front of him. “Another reminder that life is short,” he says of that episode.

And soon enough, he was learning from his older brother about the world that computer programming opens and expanding on what he learned with his CS degree. He made a plan to formalize his learnings, quit Accenture, and get into programming. He did this—taking a week’s vacation to work around the clock learning how to program and then took a short trip by himself to Portland, Maine to close off the corporate consulting chapter of his life.

In the transition, he found himself drawn not just to the programming ecosystem, but also to the larger entrepreneurial one tied into it. If he had this gift of creation in the digital age, why not use it for his own ideas?

And ideas he’s had. Moschel talks about the idea phase of his thinking and its not hard to imagine it being near limitless. It’s the execution—the shutting down of any future ideas for the moment and the silencing of the all-too-distracting internal brain that plagues him sometimes.

I talk to him about his internal brain. He speaks of it in broad, people terms. We’re a distracted group, he says. We’re bogged down in these distractions and our day-to-day of really not accomplishing much. This is one of the sadnesses he sees in humanity.

Where he comes in is a chance to rectify this. With proper habits and strategies, he knows he can help people dull this inner friction. But it’ll take time.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Humanistic optimization is an odd goal for some. For one, it’s hard to track. When does one hit peak? Do we have an objective way to begin to solve that? Does one want to hit peak creativity? Peak management? And what is lost when one does? Is peak creativity a footbridge to insanity? It’s not hard to imagine the questions expanding infinitely.

The other issue I’ve heard is that optimization can seem, well, un-human. “To err is human,” right? And what if we work toward no errors? Toward perfection.20151106_115311

Moschel isn’t sure he believes in perfection, but there’s always room to move toward it.

With talks of Artificial Intelligence becoming more populated these days, it’s not hard to make a cranial connection. Robots, running off the perfected lines of programming created by people like Moschel are said to be the closest approximation of “perfect” in our world today. Are we moving toward a more robotic versions of ourselves? Less prone to perceived weaknesses—lapses in judgement, feelings, etc…

Moschel is an interesting case here. He works on machines. He loves technology and sees it as an avenue to helping the mass of people not achieving their best selves. So it fits into his goal mentioned above—helping us silence our distracting brain.

So, what’s your favorite part of being a human? I ask him point blank.

He swerves around the question. “You mean, what’s my favorite part of being alive,” he asks.

“No,” I say. “Not really,” but he answers anyway.

HIs answer to that is related to our utter insignificance. He talks about the timeline of the Earth. About the billions currently populating this planet. The billions more to come. The other planets out there. We mean so little, he proclaims.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Later we discuss work and to-do lists. Moschel is never specific with his issues. He doesn’t burden you with his own tribulations. The whole “misery loves company” idea is lost on him, it seems. Why talk about troubles? What good does that do? It’s logic that tells us none.

And it’s logic that makes the world go around. Moschel is one of the few people you see that can quickly take a fact and implement it into his life. It comes and goes with little emotion—all in the name of living better, according to a set of objective logic.

Clarity. Clarity, he says, is his greatest motivator. Knowing precisely what one hopes to achieve. Of course, this is the always challenge—to have it and to hold it.

_ _ _ _ _ _

At our last meeting, Mark spends time preparing for a month of writing challenges. He’s had articles half-started and is having trouble completing them. In his own words, this is due to the wonderful distraction that is research and the wanting to jump into a newer, more timely or exciting article. He too, like all of us, reaches for the bright shiny thing sometimes.

At our first meeting at Lovely, he is breaking down a habit system for his writing challenge. He’ll write for 7 minutes each day. The key, we brainstorm, is approaching this as a sort of automatic writing—a technique where one just puts words to paper, no matter if they’re relevant or not.

To aid in this 7-minute daily challenge, he works on a reward and consequence system. If he doesn’t do this goal, there must be some negative repercussion or enforcement. What that is he’s not sure about. He likes working out. He eats well. He wants to volunteer. He can spare a bit of money and anything more than a bit is excessive.

He decides after  a while on a negative. He’ll hold himself accountable to this throughout the month.

Before the end of the day he’s set up a calendar to “X” out each day that he completes his 7 minutes. This is a habit-building process he’s used for years (some know it as the “Seinfeld” hack, named after the famed comedian). He shares it with me. “Accountability is vital,” he says.

There’s little doubt in my mind that he’ll complete his challenge and output for writing this month. If he doesn’t, I imagine it’ll be because he got too busy. Too distracted, perhaps, with newer and more enticing enterprises.

That’s perhaps the divide we find. We’re all subject to this push and pull, between our commitments and our instincts. For most, we let this pass by, accomplishing some things and talking ourselves out of the importance of those that fall by the wayside. After all, there’s a new Netflix show just out and football to watch. Furniture magazines to sift through and daydream on. (So we beat on, boats against the current)

I like to imagine Mark in this battleground, fully equipped with the best armory on the commitment side. Hacks and tools and manipulations and a whipsmart intelligence. Will he win the war? It depends on how you look at it. The war itself might just be a series of battles, strung out over days and months amounting to a lifetime.

The intersections we’re at are always coming and going. There’s no such thing, in this life, as a street with all green lights. For Moschel, this means always looking further down the road at new optimizations. When we hit a red light, how do we not slow to a standstill? How do we swing momentum in our own favor? And what of our emotions—occasionally running those red lights or wild left turns out of the right lane. To what do we owe our randomness—even as we seek perfection?

Moschel summed up this overlap himself, almost happenstancely. “Humans are crazy machines,” he says. “We’re hilarious.”

For all our faults, we may just be the best of all possible scenarios after all. That is, until we’re not. And we’ll wait for the providers of those brilliant, new practical wisdoms to show us the way.

October Monthly Challenges

August & September are in need of reflections. I’ll soon do that.

My goals for October:

  1. Finish final draft of Travel eBook [DONE — Current in Editing]
  2. Build out personal “best of” longform article reading list (long blogpost) [DONE — read here!]
  3. 10 minutes of morning meditation & 10 minutes of evening [Completed 50% of mornings and 57% of nights]

Letter On A Lifestyle Change

Dear X,

I’m sitting in Montreal right now – heading toward New York and it strikes me this might be my last nomadic travel for some time. Nomadic being in the sense that I am traveling between two places, neither of which is my home. After New York, I’ll be going to Chicago where I’ll stay for some time — punctuated, perhaps, by vacations away from there but always, at least while I have my job, to return.

In some way, this is the last leg of a lifestyle i’ve had for half of a decade. No home, no direction to one, No same bed in same neighborhood to burrow back after the hard times. The road became a friend, a confidant, and somehow a singular place to be.

Those were the scenes in my life these last years. Always changing — transitions of airports and packed bags. Goodbye waves and hello hugs. A coffee shop where no one knows my name or my story.

What lies ahead in this new life? I have no idea, but it’s worth thinking about, And this is my method. It comes to you because in some way I’ve always felt you were a champion, one of the greatest, of that old life and my hope is that I’m not letting you down. or letting down myself.

What you should know is that I’m more nervous than ever. Anxiety was always a cool distance away from me, but now I can feel it. The unknown. The hypotheticals that spin around and create worlds that will never exist, but who is to know that now.

It is, however, in this feeling that I’ve found excitement too. And strength. Kerouac, if I remember correctly, in the opening of The Subterraneans called this his “nervous orientation”.

And what that’s predicated upon is a newness.

It used to be that traveling gave me a newness, that before each flight I felt a nervousness. A new place. A new office. A new life I could set up if I was staying for some time. In some places, a new language and culture and parks to walk in on afternoons I wanted to step away from the computer.

But that stopped. Somewhere I grew comfortable in the unknown, content in moving from place to place, almost bored in some moments. What I certainly felt also was some loneliness and the long-termness of that often was hard to handle. I’m an extrovert in so many ways, and, though I’ve grown to love some introversive parts of myself, I crave others to be with, talk with, sleep with.

I had some of this everywhere I went, but it was never a guarantee. Always a question mark. For years, I saw the question mark as my embodiment. I lived it. It’s answer became my intention. Now, I am not so sure it is the symbol of ME, though I do not know what it is. So the question mark exists — but as a pre-front to the mission.

What’s coming next is exciting, both in its asking (professional work) and the opportunity of something drastic and new. Sitting down. Settling for a moment. Catching my breath and become a citizen of a place. I have no insight into how long that will last — or even how long I hope it does — but it’s an opportunity for newness and uniqueness, and those have always been my battle cry of life.

Somewhere, on some soft winter day, when the winds are staining me with cold, I know that travel bug will creep in. I know it’ll sit in the knots of my stomach, clawing at its sides, telling me to find the nearest highway and just go. The thoughts of freedom, when you don’t think you have it, are infinite and large. Powerful beyond any means, I imagine. It’s why so many billions of people have dreamt that dream. I will never claim to know that battle they fight, but I too seek freedom in my own way.

And, for us, our friendship. Well I hope it doesn’t ruin me for you. Hope it doesn’t scatter my image if that image was a traveler, a nomad, a do-it-by-his-own terms kind of guy. I don’t know what the image you have of me is and that’s a good thing — we should be allowed to construct others in the image we hope, so long as our expectations that they too are their own construct are not limited — but I hope it persists to be positive and inspiring. I hope there is still love for me in my pursuits and encouragement and not an end or destruction. I do not think there will be but it is with words I can extol my desires.

And so that it shall be. Gone, for now, are the days of reeling around Brooklyn or Buenos Aires, or reeling around at all. I am committed to finding happiness in this stage of my life, as I will with all future stages. And in the change, I’ll find both good and bad. I know this ahead of time, but keeping this intelligence on an even keel will be a battle. And when that travel bug runs itself up into my mind, I’ll do my best to remember that my previous lifestyle, too, had its good and bad.

What I’m certain to never forget is simple, however: you and the other friends I’ve been allowed into the hearts of along the traveling way, were always the best of the whole damn thing.

With admiration, always —

Eric Grant