It’s been some time since I’ve had to commute on the bus. As a student, the bus was my main mode of getting around town (and the occasional trip home), but in my post-student days, I’ve been privledged to have a vehicle of my own to commute in.
A few weeks back, I carpooled to Hamilton with my wife so that I could attend an ethics workshop at McMaster University. After my business was done on campus, I took the bus from campus to her place of work.
I greeted the driver as I embarked the bus, paid my fare, and took a seat. Instead of getting lost in whatever was on my phone, I took the opportunity to watch the streets as we drove by and listen to the sounds of the bus.
I was startled when I realized that I had forgotten that regular bus-riders always thank the driver when disembarking. It was something I did back in my student days, and I was glad to see that not much had changed in the 5-7 years since I regularly rode the bus.
Given that I had forgotten this little gesture of appreciation and kindness, I wanted to take a moment in this otherwise dull blog to commit it to memory and share the sentiment.
I had a strange realization last week. I am now at a point in my career where I need to make “give business card” a default action for when I’m out and about, but not for the reason you may think. Under normal circumstances, I feel it’s relatively rare that I have to give out a business card. In most instances, my role has been too small and insignificant to warrant it, but also because I don’t really buy into the culture of swapping business cards with people in an effort to ‘network.’ I have been promoted to a new role, which entails more responsibility and autonomy when it comes to business meetings, but I’m still getting used to the idea of thinking of myself as an administrator or a manager.
Last week, I was in a coffee shop to grab a quick bite to eat before a meeting. The cashier saw that I was wearing a jacket with our school’s logo, and he excitedly asked if I was a student or employee. I let him know that I work at the college, and he asked in what area. When he heard I work in the school of engineering, he proudly told me that he received multiple acceptances into our mechanical engineering diploma programs. Since the coffee shop was dead, he then launched into a mini history of his background – he was born in east Africa, immigrated to the Middle East, did secondary school in the US, and now has his visa to study in Ontario. He told me some of his education, that he had top marks in design in high school, and even has a portfolio.
His energy and enthusiasm was infectious, and he left a strong impression on me. He sounds like a great kid, and I have no doubt that he will be successful in his studies. I told him where he could find me on campus, and he said he’d find me in the future.
I realized as I was driving away that I had missed the perfect opportunity to give him my card and promise to follow-up if he had any questions. I want to see him succeed, and if there was anything I could do to help, I’d gladly try.
Rather than seeing the business card as a way of helping myself, I should put more emphasis on seeing the business card as a way of helping others.
Last week, I discussed how I felt really good after a particularly productive day. Just as I was drafting the post, I shared my thoughts with my wife. She was happy for my sense of accomplishment and expressed encouraging words about the value of feeling fulfilled, productive, and useful. But, I didn’t just marry her to build me up; my wife is also my best sounding board to check my intuitions.
In her wisdom, she asked if that kind of feeling of satisfaction is a healthy one. I knew what she was getting at right away. She wasn’t expressing skepticism about this one instance, but instead she was gesturing at a longer trend of mine.
I have a mindset and set of expectations on myself that are dangerously close to being unhealthy, to the point where I know I would never try and convince a person to adopt it themselves.
You see, I hate feeling like I’m wasting my time. I don’t mean this in a hustle/grind sort of way, nor does this mean that I don’t waste loads of my time (hello YouTube; you are my true weakness).
I hate napping because I feel like it’s a waste of my time.
I should qualify that a little bit. When I say a waste of my time, I don’t mean that napping isn’t good for me. I know that sleep is good. Sleep will rejuvenate you, help your brain work better, help you feel better, etc.
When I say that napping is a waste of my time, I mean it in an existential sense. When I sleep, I am unconscious, and when I’m unconscious, time slips past me faster. It’s almost like time travel. I go to sleep and wake up in the future. All the time in the middle is gone, and I can never get it back. I have done nothing, and made no memories.
This line of thinking extends to downtime. I don’t handle downtime very well, often feeling guilty to take time to myself to mindlessly indulge in “non-productive” things (the aforementioned YouTube, movies/tv, videogames, etc). When I give myself permission to focus on fun things, it’s always clouded with the knowledge that by taking time to do a fun thing, it’s time not spent on something productive, and no matter how much fun I have, I know that those tasks and projects I need to work on will still have to be done. I’m not trading off tasks; I’m delaying progress because time runs linearly.
My wife (rhetorically) asked if this line of thinking is sustainable, and it is obviously not. Indeed, she rightfully labelled it as a stupid worldview to hold.
The real problem is that while I would never advocate for anyone else to frame their worldview in these terms, I want to (and choose to) do it for myself. I think this is largely because I’m so disordered in my productivity and I’m always battling against my akrasia (a fancy Greek term for making bad decisions due to weakness of the will). It’s my way of punishing myself for not focusing when I want to focus.
The reason why I mentioned that this is an existential problem for me is because when I think about my mortality, I know that every moment that passes is bringing me closer to death. Every moment that I spend watching YouTube videos instead of getting stuff done is non-renewable time that I can’t get back and exchange for time on more important things like my wife, my dog, family, friends, or leisurely pursuits. Realistically, I have finite time, a finite number of heartbeats, and no way of buying more. Instead, decisions like not going to the gym, not sleeping, or eating unhealthily have the opposite effect and are likely shortening my life.
I know this is stupid. I know this is unhealthy. And I don’t have a good solution to address it. This isn’t a case of believing that hustling for the sake of hustling is inherently virtuous. Quite the opposite, I think grinding away should be in service of something higher than itself. This is, plainly, a different flavour of a fear of missing out. I’m worried about missing out on things by not being productive.
I don’t have an adequate response to the charge that my worldview is not good. At least I have some semblance of self-awareness and a great partner in my wife that calls me out on my shenanigans.
No, I didn’t get this book because my relationship is in trouble. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. My relationship with my wife is great, and I want to keep it that way. I first came across Sexton in a Lifehacker podcast along side Esther Perel and I thought he had some interesting perspectives on relationships as a divorce lawyer. This book distills his 20-years of law experience and covers a gamut of reasons why relationships fail. The thinking is that while he doesn’t know what makes a good relationship, he knows all sorts of reasons why they don’t work, and the reader of his book can learn from the mistakes of his clients.
I pre-ordered this a few weeks back and it just came in the mail, so I haven’t had a chance to get very far into it. I first encountered Greene through a book recommendation from a friend of mine for his book, Mastery. I was intrigued with the material in Mastery, so I’ve kept an eye on Greene since. I listened to a the audiobook for the 48 Laws of Power, and I listened to a bit of his Art of Seduction (though I never finished it). Greene, like his protege Ryan Holiday, is a master of research synthesis. While his books are a bit of an animated bibliography, I think it’s the best representation of the genre. He digs into history to learn lessons from key figures to articulate his thesis. Instead of reporting on the achievements of others, Greene feels like a chronicler of insights. I’m looking forward to what this book has to offer.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’ve never read this one until now. I’m familiar with the well-known courtroom scenes from the movie, but I was never assigned this while I was in school. Since I’ve been reading a steady diet of non-fiction, I thought I should dig into some quality fiction. I’m less than an hour into the audiobook, but already I find Scout to be an intriguing character (narrated by Sissy Spacek).
While my wife and I were heading off on our mini-honeymoon after the wedding last month, we found it difficult to talk about anything that wasn’t about the wedding. The planning and lead-up to our nuptials was over a year in the making, so in the afterglow of the party, we didn’t have much to talk about. Instead of riding in complete silence, we bought a copy of the Deathly Hallows on audiobook for the drive. I’ve only read the book once, and that was way back in 2007 when it was released (I bought it during a layover in Heathrow Airport on my way home from Kenya). We only listen to the book while together in the car during long(ish) drives between cities, and it’s funny how often we shut it off to talk about the story, or how stupid Harry (the character) is when you really think about it. It’s honestly among my favourite times spent with my wife.
I bought this book with high hopes, but sadly I’m finding it a bit of a let down. The Ikigai concept has floated around the interwebs and on my radar for a little over a year now. It got picked up in the blogosphere (mostly on Medium for me), so when I saw the book I thought I should check it out. This particular book is a hard animated bibliography. I think its greatest sin is that it talks about Ikigai by first covering other well-known philosophical ideas, such as Frankl’s work in Man’s Search for Meaning. I had hoped the concepts would stand on their own, or at least be situated with the original Japanese contexts that they were born out of. Instead, it cobbles together a bunch of summaries of other publications and presents them in digest format. Because the book is short with big font, I’ll slog through it, but it’s not what I had hoped it would be.
Until I started working in an office, I had never experienced the “office cards” thing myself. I actually didn’t realize it was a thing until recently, either. This is likely to be attributed to the gendered roles of emotional labour – I, as a man, don’t really think about these sorts of things because they aren’t expected of me. But, in our office, cards are reliably circulated and initiated by the women of our office. I’m not saying this is right or fair. The truth is, I should take a more proactive role in these sorts of community-building activities because of my membership to the group. In my personal life, I’ve taken the habit with a few friends to regularly send letters or thank-you cards for things that happen, but within a work context, I’ve yet to take the initiative.
Before I left the office for my wedding, my colleagues and bosses gathered around my cubicle to give me a card and wish me well for my upcoming nuptials. The gave me a card with a gift inside. The gift was thoughtful, but truthfully I appreciate the card more. Everyone in the office had signed it without me knowing (as is protocol). A part of me knows that taking a moment to sign a card (especially when everyone is doing it) is a fairly low-effort discharge of obligation; you sign it because someone puts it in front of you and you’d be rude to refuse.
Nevertheless, when I read over the card, and saw everyone’s signatures and well-wishes, it made me happy to be included. I felt a surge of warmth that my colleagues took the time to do this for me. I felt the same way when some of the faculty also signed a card to my wife and I.
And this morning, a card was circulated to celebrate one of our faculty members becoming a grandmother. I felt joy to sign the card, to wish my colleague well and celebrate the birth of her grandchild. It’s such a small but powerful gesture.
But it’s something I felt like I’ve lost until only recently. I don’t know if it’s because it wasn’t as common with my family to give cards when I was growing up, or (the more likely case) that as a child I didn’t understand its significance. That lack of understanding and awareness then was transformed during my transition to adulthood by my lack of care for these sorts of emotional efforts in general. As I mentioned at the top of the post, men aren’t socialized or expected to perform these sorts of tasks, and I’m no exception to this. It isn’t asked of me, nor am I expected to think of these things. Further, no one would blame me for not thinking of this, and I would likely receive a lot of praise if I did.
Truthfully, I’m a lazy person, and I like that this kind of expectation isn’t placed on me. It gives me a free pass to coast and disengage. But, I also acknowledge two things: first, it’s not fair that I get a pass for being a guy while these tasks are expected of women; and second, that receiving signed cards brings me joy, which should motivate me to do the same for others in similar circumstances.
Card that express joy for others fortunes, or cards that acknowledge pain and grief in others are worth sending, because it’s a small, uncommon way to stay connected to others in personal ways. It’s something I should do more often.
*Update: I’ve added bullet points to the bottom since the time of original publication. New points are identified as “New.”
I’ve made references to the concept of the “animated bibliography” in a few recent instagram posts. I first started conceiving of the idea when I wrote a short self-reflective critique of my habit of reading self-help books.
I doubt I’m the first person to notice this trend in publishing, and I’m not entirely confident that this is a new trend at all. The more likely explanation is that this is something that has gone on for a while and I’m just too stuck in reading the same books listed on every “must read” list to see the broader context. Were I to read books that were published earlier than the last decade, perhaps I would see that book have always used this strategy to convey information.
Nevertheless, it would be fun to take on a bit of a research project to see whether this trend has proliferated from a certain point in time, who the early adopters were, and how quickly it’s accelerating.
For the moment, here are my early observations:
The animated bibliography is a style of nonfiction where the author uses a micro expression of some authority to explain or contextualize some broader universal “truth.”
The authority is either scientific studies or biographical case studies. Biographical case studies are not always literal examples, but can also be mythical or metaphorical examples.
The material is rarely discussed from the negative; that is, the material is presented as a causal relationship to explain a phenomenon, but less commonly are counter-examples, counterfactuals, or false-positives discussed.
The author is usually repackaging the work of someone else, rather than the original author of the micro expression. For example, there is a difference between Daniel Kahneman writing a book reflecting on behavioural economics and his original studies, and someone invoking a study published by Daniel Kahneman to explain an phenomenon. The animated bibliography would be the latter, but not the former. The animated bibliography is a presentation of the things the author has learned.
The animated bibliography has parallels to how research papers are written at the undergraduate level.
The animated bibliography can be thought of as a narrative stitched together. A series of vignettes (chapters) that bring stories together under a broader meta-narrative that provides a unified theory.
The animated bibliography is a method of delivering nonfiction, but it is not necessarily meant to be a moral lesson. It is protreptic in aim – it attempts to be explanatory, if not educative.
The animated bibliography typically falls under a few key genres of nonfiction: business, productivity, leadership, personal development or self-improvement.
In isolation, the animated bibliography is merely a geneology of ideas, but taken as a genre it becomes self-referential. The same studies and case studies start popping up over and over. These, in turn, get meta-referenced by popular authors who write about them. For instance, a reference could take the form of a book referencing another author’s book about a series of published studies.
Hypothesis: this phenomenon (if it is a new phenomenon) is an emergence from the overlapping worlds of start-ups and founder idolization, social media-fed ennui, high technology, scientism, and people’s inability to move from idea to action. The books are proliferated as instructionals and how-to’s to solve a behavioural problems. They paint an ideal way forward, but the fact that they keep getting published, and that a market still exists, means that no one book can actually be held up as the definitive voice. The plurality exists because they singly do not provide broad answers.
The market creates a series of urtexts that spawn and inspire secondary and tertiary levels of reference.
*New* The author takes on an authoritative tone in the books, but uses the references to others as the source of their authority.
*New* Rarely is the book the result of a lengthy period of research or work in the field as a practitioner. Instead, the book is the product of some period of immersion or research in the topic at hand (e.g. the author spent a year working on the topic and is writing a book about it).
I’ve deliberately kept things vague in terms of which authors and books I have in mind when I make the observations above. Perhaps in time, I’ll have more courage and name names of those I find to be the biggest offenders of the genre. For now, though, I choose to remain silent.