puntiglio.com - Bookshelf

December 29, 2008

The Charm School

Filed under: Uncategorized — sbj @ 4:11 pm

One of my all time favorite books is The Gold Coast by Nelson DeMille.  It’s just a fiction novel, no deeper meaning or anything, but there the story telling, dialog etc. are fantastic.  It’s been (guessing here) nearly 20 years since I read the book, but when I found out that there was a sequel coming out it was  must re-read.

Once I started it didn’t take me long to re-discover what I loved about this book.  Like all good books, it is laden with insight and despite being “just a fiction novel”, if you allow it to be, it is so much more.

The following passage I am, willingly and with malice of forethought, taking out of context.  In it’s original context t is part of an erotic scene involving horseback riding, but, in my opinion, it can be extrapolated and lent far deeper meaning.

Yet, I believe that marriages entirely grounded in reality are bound to fail, just as individuals who cannot escape into flights of fancy are bound to crack up.

This concept is something that I have clung to my entire life. Some people talk about their inner child, some people talk about never growing up, and others simply talking about keeping hope alive but in one form or another, I think everyone knows what the author is discussing here. 

To live a truly satisfying life, a person has to have some optimism, they have to have dreams.  When I say dreams I am talking about things more lofty than goals, I’m referring to the “shoot for the stars” type of dreams that are not guaranteed (or perhaps even likely) to come true. 

It is certainly not possible for someone to be a 17th century baron, receiving “gratitude” for passing a message on to the king (oh wait, I wasn’t going to go into detail… oops), however imagining this and other possibilities, and even acting them out is part of staying “young at heart” and, as Mr. DeMille so adroitly points out, a great mechanism for maintaining your sanity.

I’m not suggesting you grab a partner, a horse and go for a ride (of course, I’m not suggesting you don’t either ;) ), nor am I suggesting escaping entirely into fantasy, however, a little dreaming mixed into your reality is a good thing.  I think I’ll go fantasize about how I’m going to spend my lottery winnings…

October 9, 2008

The Yacoubian Building

Filed under: Controversial, Fiction, Fun/Light — sbj @ 8:17 pm

Usually, I do not throw a book on the shelf when I am on page 7.  Part of the reasoning is that I like to know the book is something I would recommend before I put it up, and part of it is because I like to leave a little latitude for the remaining couple hundred pages to have their say in what clip from the book I capture.

However, this morning, as I started reading The Yacoubain Building, I was instantly taken by the passage the follows.

“So much and even more did Zaki Bey love women.  He had knows even kind, starting with Lady Kamla… Zaki Bay has also slept with women of all classes - oriental dancers, foreigners, society ladies and the wives of the eminent and distinguished, university and secondary school students, even fallen women, peasant women, and housemaids.  Every one had her special flavor, and he would often laughingly compare the bedding of Lady Kamla with its rules of protocol and that of that beggar woman he picked up one night when drunk in his Buick and took to his apartment… he remembers too that she was one of the most beautiful of all the women he has known and one of the most ardent in love.”

I have abbreviated and clipped my way to a entry small enough to work in this space, but the actual passage covers a couple of pages, and includes many more details.

What struck me about this passage was the ease with which the author conveys Zaki’s indiscriminate (in the best possible sense of the word) nature in his philandering.   He see’s every woman individually, as a composite of her attributes, her strengths and particular attractiveness.

I found this very refreshing.  Rather than subscribing to a pre-fabricated vision of what is attractive (usually provided by a beer commercial or something of the sort) and checking her against “the list” to see if she qualifies, he assumes beauty in the women he meets.  He then simply observes and subsequently recognizes the beauty he already knew was there.

I think there is a very valuable lesson to be learned here… one that a person probably doesn’t actually have to sleep around to discover and co-opt into ones own life.

August 12, 2008

The Tao of Willie…

Filed under: Feel Good, Good Gift — sbj @ 4:30 pm

For my birthday, I received The Tao of Willie, from a very good friend.  I have put off reading it for a few weeks, but dove in on the bus yesterday.  About half way through I found this little nugget.

I am the only person who can set myself free from what might have been.

It reminds me of the line from the Frank Sinatra song My Way: “Regrets, I’ve had a few; but then again, too few to mention.”  Expectations, followed by disappointment have a tendency to lead to regret.  However, I have never felt this needed to be the case.

In every experience that you have throughout your life, there are lessons to be learned.  They may not be obvious, or, they may be more along the lines of “mastery” work rather than new knowledge. However the lessons are there for the taking.  If we focus on the opportunities, rather than on failed expectations built on a foundation of hope, we constantly spiral up, rather than down.

In the same way you chose to go into every situation with either a positive or negative mind set, your perspective after the fact is up to you as well.  Determining the success or failure of something is not so objective as you think.  Every activity we undertake can be viewed through different lenses or perspectives.

When I was playing baseball in college, in my first plate experience, I fouled off about 5 pitches before striking out (with two runners in scoring position)… to end the inning.  I came back to the dugout dejected feeling that I had let the team down, that I had failed.  Instead of the run scoring hit I had imagined, I had ended the inning and our best chance to score to that point.

My coach pulled me aside, and he asked me what I had learned.  I started to say something like “to keep my eye on the ball…” and he cut me off.  “What did you learn that can help the team?” he asked.  I gave this a bit more thought and told him that I had fouled off two curve balls because they were hanging up in the zone a bit… they did not have much bite to them.

Two batters later a hanging curve ball was deposited in the stands and the game was tied.  Four batters later, with runners on first and third, the pitcher was out of the game and we were in the middle of a rally.  We went on to win the game by two runs.

I needed some help from my coach, but, what I managed to do was “free myself from what might have been” (the run scoring hit, by me) and use the valuable lessons from my “failure” to help my team win the game.

Every situation has a positive outcome, if you look or work hard enough.  Every “what might have been” has a “what it is” and whether that is positive or negative is completely up to you.

If you don’t believe me… ask Willie…

August 10, 2008

Where there’s a Will There’s a way

Filed under: Feel Good, Good Gift, Self Help — sbj @ 5:10 am

Yesterday I was reading “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way” I came across the chapter on loss.  This chapter was particularly poignant to me at the time as I was dealing simultaneously with memories of my mothers death, my own proximity to her age when she passed, the stillborn death of a relative (the funeral was yesterday) and the irony of that death occurring on my birthday.  You might say this was an emotional day for me, so I thought this chapter crossing my path at this particular juncture fortuitous.  As I read, I came across this quote:

It was only then that I realized the value of the black mourning bands that bereaved people wore on their arms during the Victorian period.  The bands did not mean, “give this person sympathy”: they meant “give this person a wide berth.”

It occurred to me that this was remarkably insightful.  I wanted support yesterday, but, did not want to talk to anyone about my issues.  I did not want solutions, I did not want sympathy or empathy, or even the ever sought after commodity of “space.”  What I wanted was patience.  I wanted people to understand that I was a little bit slow right now.  That I did not have the quick one liners that they normally expected from me, I was not going to notice slight changes in a persons demeanor that meant they had experienced something they needed to talk about.  I was not even going to make up my mind (very quickly anyway) about what I wanted for dinner.  So, no matter how nice or considerate one might think they were being, taking me “wherever I want to go” for dinner is on the short list of worst possible ideas.  Nice, but not helpful.

Make easy decisions for me and let me process.  Take care of the mundane things that may just slip under my mental radar and only put me in charge of things that do not need rapid resolution. Be helpful *when I ask* and be tolerant when I appear to completely ignore you or blow you off.   You see, I’m not broken, I’m overwhelmed.  I don’t need to be fixed, I need to regain control.  I am strong and can handle this, I just need the opportunity… and a little more wiggle room than usual.

If it’ll help, I can wear the black band to remind you…

July 20, 2008

Write Portable Code

Filed under: Uncategorized — sbj @ 6:37 pm

You may be tempted to make porting a separate stage, just like editing or debugging, but “thinking portability” in not a step - it’s an all-encompassing state of mind that should inform each specific task a programmer performs.

Sometimes I get bits of life knowledge or wisdom from strange places.  A couple of years ago I had just such an experience while reading Write Portable Code (yes you read that right, it’s a programming book).  While reading all about the deeply personal and insightful topic of portable code, I stumbled upon this quote:

You may be tempted to make porting a separate stage, just like editing or debugging, but “thinking portability” in not a step - it’s an all-encompassing state of mind that should inform each specific task a programmer performs.

It reminded me instantly of the phrase one of my dear friends is so fond of using; “people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.”  I then internalized the thought process a bit and started thinking about personality traits, codes of ethics, morality, etc.

It seems to me that people have different kinds of ethics in different situations.  Some of their decisions are situational, and guided by what is going on in the moment.  Some by the culture or general mood of the era, and others by a more foundational base that is not effected by mood or environment.

That last group is what I would call the “portable code” that makes up a persons quality of character.  The part of their personality that transcends more transient influences and applies, not situationally, but rather to everything they do.

These are a persons real core values.  However, I think that often, the public perception of a persons values is derived more from their “reason” and “season” values (as those tend to be more evident in day to day life) than their “lifetime” values.  This concerned me, and served as a call to action.  I did not want to be judged on a situational or societal value system, but rather on what is truly fundamental to me.

Since then I have taken greater pains to be sure that my core values show through when I speak or write.  They may not be as trendy or fun, but they are who I am.  They are my portable (and therefore most robust and useful) code.  They are not a step in the process, but rather the all-encompassing state of mind that informs each specific task I perform.

May 25, 2008

The Hedonism Handbook

Filed under: Feel Good, Fun/Light, Good Gift — sbj @ 10:57 pm

I received The Hedonism Handbook: Mastering the Lost Arts of Leisure and Pleasure as a gift a couple of years ago.  Since it had the word hedonism in the title, it did not collect any dust, I was all over it.  A hedonistic lifestyle appeals to me on many levels (as long as I can be philanthropic at the same time - insert collective groan from all real hedonists here ;) The quote I flipped to is actually a section heading, so its short… but, it works!

“Winning is for losers - just play”

I love this, it is, of course, the simplified hedonistic (don’t worry I’m not going to use that word in every sentence, I promise) manifestation of what you’ve been hearing from your parents all of your life (provided your life has lasted at least 30+ years), “Its not whether you win or you lose, its how you play the game.”

This section of the book is introduced by a story in which the author finds out that the people of Barcelona take a couple of hours off every afternoon and then party until the wee hour of the morning (often 6:00am, dance clubs not even populated until 2:00am).  The author asks how they get anything done and gets this amused reply.

“You know. In America you are all in this mad race to be number one.  And you know what? You win!  You can be number one.  Here, we would rather enjoy our lives”

While there are certain areas in which I like to win, I have to admit that more and more, I do not find it necessary to win at everything.  Especially things that require me to not play a large part of the time in order to win when I do play.  I have discovered, for example, that I’d rather play basketball games 4 or 5 times a week, even if they are not highly competitive, than practice 4 days a week and play one highly competitive game.  Goodbye top flight city league ball, hello YMCA noon ball.  I’m playing everyday, not at my peak level, but who cares… I’m still having fun… and doing it daily.

There is a lot of life out there to be enjoyed, and trying to be the best at everything, or even anything, is preventative.  It keeps you from experiencing so much of life.  Take it from someone who has tried both sides, it is far better to be a jack of many trades and a master of none.  And, in the end, if I happen to have participated in and enjoyed so many things that I have had a phenomenally rewarding life?

Well, I didn’t say all winning was bad…

May 20, 2008

A Kids Guide to Giving

Filed under: Feel Good, Good Gift, Leadership, Must Reads, Self Help — sbj @ 8:27 pm

My oldest Son is thirteen years old and for years has asked for the same thing for his birthday (which comes within a couple of weeks of Christmas). Year in and year out, he wishes for people to make donations to charity, usually phrased like this “give something to the poor kids.” He downplays it by saying he received more than enough for Christmas. I’ve always been particularly proud of him for this. My youngest son gives too, just not for his birthday… he randomly picks things while we are shopping, for example, and we then donate them.

Inspired by my boys, I have a particular affinity for today’s book A Kids Guide to Giving. Researched, compiled and written (with a little help from family and friends) by a 14 year old (it was actually published when she was 20), it is a primer for getting actively involved in the process of giving back. The book includes chapters on why to give, how to give, and even how to start your own campaign. The back half of the book is a meticulously researched compendium of profiles on charitable organizations, with details including a break down of how each dollar is spent within the organization. And now… the quote:

Maybe you already knew that the environment needed help. But did you know that pollution in the ocean leads to less oxygen for people to breath? It’s true. Maybe you also know that illiteracy is a problem - but would you be surprised to hear that about 16% of the world’s adult population cannot read? Would you be more motivated to help if you knew exactly how many people in your own town couldn’t read? Find out the facts.

I have spoken before (on my regular blog) about the spirit of giving and how important that is to instill in people. It is a mindset that, generally, once established sticks with people. That belief is part of what generated my “make the world a better place” campaign.

The book itself was published in conjunction with By Kids for Kids, and organization that is well worth your time to investigate, if you are not already familiar.

If you have pre-teens or teens (my seven year old read it and loved it too), I cannot recommend this book enough, it is one afternoons reading, with a lifetime of returns.

May 18, 2008

100 Voices

Filed under: Fun/Light, Good Gift, History, Leadership, Must Reads — sbj @ 6:54 pm

I love quotes (which, you might be able to tell, based on the nature of this blog), so often I pick up books full of them. I’m not limited to one liners, lengthy quotes if they are complex yet succinct are just as good. With that in mind I have really enjoyed 100 Voices: Words That Shaped Our Souls Wisdom to Guide Our Future, a compilation of quotes and passages from throughout 20th century.

One of the things I loved about this book was how it broke the century down into decades and provided a miniature history lesson on each decade, using quotes to document the events that transpired. In 146 very short pages, you get a decent history of the 20th century. Not only in terms of major events, but, because of all of the quotes, you also get a good sense of the mood of the times.

When I flipped this book open, I landed on a page with this quote:

Until Justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skin, emancipation will be a proclamation but not a fact.

It should come as no surprise to anyone who follows my writing that I would pick a quote that deals with race or gender issues, these are probably the causes that are most near to my heart.

This particular quote comes from Lyndon B. Johnson. It gets more interesting when you find out that these words were spoken at an address at Gettysburg. It must have taken a great deal of confidence, in 1963, for the President to stand on the hallowed ground where Lincoln once gave one of the most famous speeches in history, and make that statement.

The 60’s were a gateway decade, I like to think those years were the first step in the enlightenment of this country (we still have a lot of walking to do before we are there).  Forty-five years after Johnson’s speech a black man has a legitimate chance of winning the highest office in the land, this is certainly significant progress. However, it is widely acknowledged that if he does not win the election, it will be more about his race, than about his qualifications. So, while progress has been made, we still have considerable work to do.

Like President Johnson before me, I look forward to the day when emancipation is no longer a proclamation and when, indeed, it is more than a fact. I anticipate a day when it is notable for its historical significance, but irrelevant as a contemporary term in the lexicon of a truly enlightened society. When it is a distant memory, of a bygone era

May 17, 2008

Why Marriages Succeed or Fail

Filed under: Must Reads, Self Help — sbj @ 11:39 pm

Okay, this time I did not even look at the book on the shelf, I just grabbed one off the shelf as I walked out of my bedroom (one of four primary book repositories in my house). I’m not sure that, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in May, I would choose Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last of my own volition, however, that’s what we’ve got. My sister sent me this book when I was having the marital problems that eventually led to my divorce. It didn’t save my marriage, however, that was no fault of the book. So, lets flip it open and see what we find, shall we…

Yes-Butting. A yes-but is any statement that starts off agreeing but ends up disagreeing.

Ah yes, in college we used to call this “rabbiting” and any sentence that started with “yeah, but” was interrupted with the requisite reply “Yeah-but’s eat lettuce”, the offending sentence was discarded and a more constructive one was put in its place. Turns out we actually did have a handle on a couple of things in college :)

Yes-butting (or rabbiting) is a tricky little form of communication, often confused with bait and switch. For the record, while similar, rabbiting is a defensive maneuver; baiting and switching is an offensive one. In either case, however, you are softly drawing the mouse to the cheese, only to spring the trap.

Like most things that can be studied as trends in marriage, rabbiting actually tends to spring up in almost any contentious conversation. It is as destructive in a casual debate as it is in an extended relationship. It is a stepping block toward detachment and isolation. Rabbiting is a way of relinquishing your responsibilities, and the first step in being able to blame someone else for things.

Before they are willing to openly criticize someone, most people are able to place them at the scene of the crime, as not so innocent bystanders. Once they have established the fallibility of the other person, and become comfortable with it, the next step is turning the other persons bystander role into active participation. This, then, allows more direct forms of criticism. If you think about it, it is a pattern you have probably seen over and over again.

Taken to the extreme, it is similar to what the Nazi propaganda machine (led by Joseph Goebbels) did to the Jews in Germany, which led to the public acceptance of the holocaust (at least, the parts of it the public was privy too). The Naz’s first took the soft approach of painting the Germans as victims who did all the work while the Jews received all of the benefit. Only when the premise of this indirect attack was widely accepted (specifically that the jews were responsible for the financial problems of the Germans), did the Nazi’s begin the process of aggressively and directly attacking and exterminating the Jews.

The point of mentioning this, of course, is to show that at any level of human interaction, from a simple debate to a global humanitarian issue, this phenomenon exists. Being aware of it, is, of course, the best start toward avoiding falling into this trap yourself.

Like most of the advice in this little book (which is a very easy read, and has lots of self tests, which are always fun) you don’t need to be trying to save a marriage for it to be useful to you (I have re-read it a couple of times post-divorce), you just have to interact with other human beings from time to time.

The Wisdom of Harvey Penick

Filed under: Fun/Light, Good Gift, Leadership — sbj @ 6:01 pm

Several years ago, when I first started playing golf, someone gave me The Wisdom of Harvey Penick as a giftI’m sure it was designed to improve my golf game (and it did); however, it probably did just as much for my life outside of golf.  I’m not sure if it was luck, or the frequency with which I reference the particular passage that led me to flip the book open to the page with this quote:

When I ask you to take an aspirin, please don’t take the whole bottle.

In the golf swing a tiny change can make a huge difference.  The natural inclination is to begin to overdo the tiny change that has brought success.  So you exaggerate in an effort to improve even more, and soon you are lost and confused again

If you think about this, it is equally true of most undertakings in life.  I see this in conversations where a person has already made their point yet continues on, or in peoples attempts to maintain relationships where one person’s desperate attempts at fixing things serve as the primary motivation for others departure

It’s human nature, which brings up something else that is kind of surprising to me, specifically, how often human nature is not in the afflicted humans best interest.  It’s an interesting balancing act that humans must perform, mixing in the proper amount of following your instincts while at the same time knowing when to eschew what comes naturally and take an alternate course.

Fortunately these paths and mysteries can often be solved by a simple dose of moderation, or in the wise words of Mr Penick, by not taking the entire bottle.

Newer Posts »

Powered by WordPress